|Expecting a warm weekend March 15-16, John and I decided to
go on a day hike on Saturday. It was supposed to be eighty-five degrees in
town that day, so we wanted to do a trail that was a little bit higher in
elevation, as well as one that would challenge us…and one that we would
actually complete! |
After doing some research, John suggested that we do either the Barnhardt Trail, in the Mazatzal Wilderness Area, or a series of trails in the Pine Mountain Wilderness Area. When he mentioned the latter of the two trails, I couldn't help but groan a bit - how could I ever forget our first adventure backpacking on Pine Mountain? It wasn't an adventure that I could easily forget. We had started out the weekend with one flat tire on I-17; then, it just got worse from there. We got lost along the Beehouse Trail, got rained on overnight, and had to hop over about twenty fallen logs on the way out. Finally, after making it to the trailhead in one piece, we nearly wrecked the van trying to get through a mud bog at the trailhead. Although we avoided hitting the tree, we did puncture a tire - it just wasn't our weekend!
Despite my initial reluctance to revisit the Pine Mountain Wilderness Area, I eventually gave in, and on Saturday morning, March 15, at 6:30 a.m., John and Mary and I left Phoenix to embark on our day's adventure.
Upon leaving the house that morning, we were surprised to find that the weather wasn't exactly what had been forecast for the day. Instead of being sunny and warm in Phoenix, the skies were overcast, and it was a chilly fifty degrees outside. "Perhaps it will burn off," John stated as we got underway. I hoped that he was right, because we certainly weren't dressed for a cold-weather hike! All three of us were dressed in shorts and T-shirts - I did bring our jackets along, though, just in case.
The drive to the Salt Flat trailhead was uneventful, but it wasn't a quick one. We made several stops along the way to try to get Mary to use the toilet (to no avail), so we didn't reach the trailhead until about 9:00 a.m. Upon our arrival, we tried once more to get Mary to go potty, this time behind a tree, but she insisted that she did not have to go.
We spent a few minutes getting our gear together for the hike, while Mary ran around through the trees at the Salt Flat Campground. Then, when it was time for us to go, we put her into the baby carrier and set off to explore the Pine Mountain Wilderness area…
…Well, not quite. As soon as John put the baby carrier on his back, there came a sudden feeling of wetness on his back as Mary, whose Pull-Up was already full, finally peed. (That was the day that we realized that Huggies Pull-Ups could only hold so much pee.) She managed to wet John's T-shirt, her shorts, and the baby carrier - this was not a good sign of things to come!
Unfortunately, I had not packed an extra outfit for Mary, so we were forced to hang her shorts from my backpack to dry while we hiked. Mary, however, protested against going shorts-less - it was only fifty degrees at the campground, so her little legs were already cold at the start. After looking around the Jeep, John discovered the perfect solution: he found a winter scarf, which we used to tie around Mary's waist like a wrap-around skirt. She liked it so much that we were able to put her back into the carrier without a fight.
Once Mary was cleaned up, we set off again to hike the Pine Mountain Trail - a nine-mile loop that would take us up to the top of Pine Mountain then back down again. There were parts of this trail that we had hiked before; however, most of this trail would be new to us, as we had never made it to the top of Pine Mountain during our first adventure. This time, we were determined to do it, no matter what happened.
Our hike began smoothly enough on the Nelsons Place Trail #159, which, for the first mile or so, was flat as it followed along Sycamore Creek. At .6 miles, just before reaching the wilderness boundaries, we came to the remnants of Nelson Place - an old homestead that is now nothing more than a pile of rocks, located next to Nelson Spring. Although the area around the spring was very muddy, it was also very beautiful, as green grass was beginning to sprout around the spring.
Soon thereafter, we entered the Pine Mountain Wilderness Area - Mary's fourteenth wilderness area - and we came to the junction with the Beehouse Canyon Trail #165. That was the trail we had hiked in September 1999, when we had gotten lost among the manzanita bushes. That particular trail was very exposed; I remember getting a touch of heat exhaustion while hiking it.
Of course, that wasn't going to be a problem on this trip. The skies were still overcast, and they weren't showing any signs of clearing. In fact, it seemed to be getting colder as the morning wore on.
Instead of taking the Beehouse Canyon Trail, John and Mary and I continued on the Nelsons Place Trail. From the junction with Beehouse Canyon, the trail continued, this time climbing very gently and still following Sycamore Creek. There were several creek crossings along the way, and each time we had to cross, John would stop and say to Mary, "Watch Mommy cross the creek!" because John found it amusing that I had no sense of balance! Mary, in turn, would laugh and say to me, "Mommy's all wet!" Yeah, thanks!
We took our first break at a trail junction, where we saw - gasp - snow on the ground! There were patches of snow on the ground along the trail, leftover from the last snowstorm at the beginning of March. It was certainly a welcome sight to see snow on the ground, considering how much Arizona needed it to help with the drought, but at the same time, I continued to wonder if we were dressed for the occasion!
During our break, I took the Mary shorts off of my backpack and put them back on her, now that they were dry. Although she was grateful to be clothed again, she became a bit crabby about taking off the scarf, as it was providing her with warmth. Once it was gone, there was nothing there to keep her legs warm from the chilled air. So, she decided to cling to us instead. As soon as we sat down on the ground to rest, she crawled into John's lap and refused to get up until it was time to go again…and even then, once we had her back in the carrier, she continued to complain that she was cold. To solve that problem, John wrapped the scarf around her legs, and that seemed to work very well for her. As soon as the whining stopped, we set off once again on our hike.
As we continued hiking, we began to find more and more patches of melting snow along the way. There were some areas in which the run-off had created tiny creeks along the trail, and there were others in which the trail was muddy and slick. There were still a number of creek crossings as well along that leg of the trail, which meant that my boots were becoming quite damp by now.
We soon came to the next trail junction, called the Cloverleaf, where Trails #12 and #14 converged. From that point on, the rest of the trail was all new to us, as that was where our Beehouse Canyon/Bishop Creek Loop Trail ended during our ill-fated trip of September 1999.
After passing through the Cloverleaf, we came to a burned area that was slowing beginning to regrow. There were many fallen logs lying about next to the trail, interspersed with young pine trees that were about ten feet tall. The area was very exposed, but since it was still very overcast, we weren't in any danger of becoming overheated. In fact, I don't think that I had even broken a sweat!
At four miles, we came to Pine Saddle, just below the peak of Pine Mountain. Despite the gray clouds that thickly covered the skies, we were able to see for miles from the saddle. Below us, we could see the Verde Valley, and beyond that, the Sierra Ancha Mountains, still covered in snow. What a beautiful sight it was!
Although we were captivated by the views from the saddle, we were not about to linger there for very long. As with any saddle, the winds were cold and vicious. Mary continued to cling to us to for warmth and even buried her face into my chest to protect her little cheeks from the chilling wind. She was quite the trooper, though, in that she never once complained about the cold, nor did she whine unless one of us put her down on the ground.
Upon leaving the saddle, we began our half-mile ascent to the top of Pine Mountain. There was only about 300 feet of elevation to go, and we felt so good that we were certain that we would make it there easily. Instead, we found something to slow us down considerably: snow, and lots of it. The entire trail was covered in it, and it was about six inches deep in most places. It was one thing for me to climb the trail in the snow, but with Mary on John's back, it was another story entirely. He had to rest often in order to muster the strength to go further. As a result, it probably took us a half an hour to reach the highest point of the trail, about fifty feet below the summit of Pine Mountain.
At the highest point of the trail, we came to a junction with the spur trail that would take us to the summit of the mountain. There, we dropped all of our gear and made the quick jaunt up to the top of Pine Mountain, elevation 6814 feet. Once we were at the top, I sat down with Mary to admire the view while John signed a log that was kept in an ammo box, next to a big rock. Then, we made our way back down to the trail junction, where we spread out of picnic blanket to eat lunch.
While we ate our sandwiches and fruit, John began playing with the GPS. Along the way, it had frozen (more like crashed) so that he was unable to navigate through the screens. He couldn't even turn it off to reset it.
"Why don't you just hard-boot it?" I suggested. "It's a computer, isn't it? You should be able to remove the batteries and put them back in again to reset it."
He thought it was a good idea, so with that, he opened up the back and pulled out the batteries. Once the GPS shut down, he quickly replaced the batteries and turned it back on again…only to receive the message "Initializing".
That was bad…the GPS had not only reset itself, but its memory was wiped clean - it was as though he had reformatted the hard drive of a computer. Everything - every single waypoint that we had ever saved into it - was completely gone. John wanted to cry, because all of those memories were gone: Montana, Cancun, South Carolina, San Francisco, his trips to Fargo and Orlando, and all of the 60+ trails that we had hiked throughout the state of Arizona. They were all gone.
And John realized, too, that it was the Ides of March. E tu Brute?
John was very sad for the rest of the day, and I certainly couldn't blame him for feeling as such. I tried not to mention the GPS to him for a while because I knew it would be a touchy subject for him. It was sort of like the time he had decided to reinstall Windows ME on our home computer and wiped our hard drive clean, erasing his skydiving log book, some pictures of Mary that weren't backed up, and about a year's worth of work on my family tree. We just couldn't help but have a sad, empty feeling about it.
After lunch was over, we packed up our gear and set off to complete the Pine Mountain Loop. From the trail junction, we started back down the mountain, following the ridgeline down doing so. Along the way, we encountered less snow but more run-off from the thaw, which meant that the trail was very wet and muddy. John and I both slid in the muck a couple of times (of course, I did mention that it was the "sl-ides" of March, didn't I?).
It wasn't until we started down from the mountain that we encountered people - until then, we had been alone on the trail. As we approached another saddle, we came across a hiking party of four, who stopped us and asked us to take their picture. We did so then wished them a safe hike as we continued along our way.
An hour later, we were back at the Cloverleaf, thus completing the loop over Pine Mountain. From there, we kept going until we came to the trail junction at which we had taken our first break. We stopped and took another extended break to rest our tired feet and to give Mary a chance to run around…or, more specifically, cling to us for warmth. Despite the fact that it was nearly 2:00 in the afternoon, the cloud cover still had not burned off, and the day remained very cool, never warming as we had hoped it would.
From the Cloverleaf, we hiked another hour back to the trailhead, successfully completing a nine-mile hike - it was the first time in a long time that we had been able to actually finish a hike, so we were quite pleased with ourselves. On top of that, we bagged a peak for the first time in about four years - what a great feeling it was to accomplish that!
Once we were back at the Jeep, it was time to go home. After putting Mary into her car seat, we drove away from the Salt Flat campground and began our long drive home. Another great adventure was over…
…but another one would soon begin…
We didn't know it at the time, but when we hiked Pine Mountain, I was already about two weeks pregnant! We found out on March 31, only a few weeks later...
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