It had been a couple of months since our last backpacking adventure - the one where we froze our butts off camping near Cave Creek. It was time to head out into the wilderness again.
Following that freezing cold winter adventure, John and I decided that it was time to buy new sleeping bags. For Valentine's Day, we went to REI and purchased three new bags: the REI Zenith Men's 0 Degree for John, the REI Zenith Women's -5 Degree for me, and the REI Zigzag Junior's 15 Degree for Mary. Eager to try out our new bags, we planned a backpacking trip for the last weekend in March.
But where to go? It had finally snowed in the high country only two weeks before - and I certainly wasn't ready for a snow-covered backpacking trip, warm sleeping bag or not! On top of that, it was much too hot to be out hiking in the desert; the new sleeping bags would just be too warm for that...plus the rattlesnakes were just coming out of hibernation, and I tend to avoid that time of year now. That said, we needed to find something in between, where it was cool enough to hike during the day but not covered in snow.
The answer was simple: the West Clear Creek Trail #17. Having backpacked West Clear Creek before during the month of March, we knew that it would be appropriate. It was high enough in elevation that we wouldn't be too hot, and it was low enough in elevation that we would be below the snow line. Additionally, West Clear Creek is perennial, so we would have plenty of water.
Our plans set, then, we packed up our gear in preparation for our backpacking adventure. With this being the first trip using our new sleeping bags, we were uncertain how they were going to fit in our backpacks, even fully compressed. They were, after all, very large sleeping bags - much larger than our old Slumberjacks had been - so we were impressed to find that they compressed into a very small size and fit very nicely into the bottom of our backpacks. Mary's new bag was even smaller than that; fully compressed, it was smaller than a soccer ball.
With all of our gear packed, we set off on Saturday, March 25 to backpack the West Clear Creek Trail #17. To get there, we headed north on I-17 until we reached Camp Verde, then drove east about fifteen miles, to FR 618. FR 618 took us to FR 215, which we followed all the way to the Bull Pen campground. That was where our hike would begin.
We started hiking around 9:30 a.m., on that warm, clear morning. We hoped that, with the early start, we could get some distance out of Mary before the meltdown hour began. The last time we hiked West Clear Creek, we only managed to get a mile out of her before we had to stop; this time, we hoped to get two or three. Since the trail was nice and flat, it seemed likely that we could do it.
By 10:30, we had already hiked past the site where we had camped before; however, we could tell that the meltdown was on its way. Mary had already started complaining that she was tired, and the look on her face was not that of a happy child. That said, it looked like we were only going to get two miles out of her.
Then, we reached the first creek crossing. Now, when John and I backpacked West Clear Creek, on our first backpacking trip back in October 1998, we didn't remember that first creek crossing looking so...so impassable. Now here we were, eight years later, looking at that creek crossing and wondering how we were ever going to get across without getting wet. After surveying the area, John determined that it we were just going to have to get wet; there was no other way around it. With that, he walked right into the creek and hiked through the water to the other side.
The water in the creek was thigh-high on John, which meant that Mary was not going to be able to get across without help. Once he reached the other side of the creek, John dropped his pack and came back to carry Mary. He then made one more trip, to make sure that I made it through okay. Since the water was thigh-high for him, it was hip-high for me. He did manage to find a route through the water to keep my shorts mostly dry; we would have to remember that for our hike out in the morning.
After making it across the creek, we started looking for a campsite and found one about fifteen minutes later. It was very similar to our last campsite there, but it did not involve crossing the creek to get to the other side; one major crossing was enough for us, thank you!
We dropped our packs and set up our tents; and once everything was set up and organized, we ate lunch and relaxed next to the creek. It was a beautiful, warm day, and spending it there, by West Clear Creek, was absolutely perfect.
Later that afternoon, I decided to go for a little explore by myself, while John and Mary were taking a nap in their tents. I hiked about a mile down the West Clear Creek Trail #17, until I reached the next creek crossing. This one was just as deep as the first one, and with me wearing camp shoes, I decided not to do it. Instead, I took a picture of the spot where I turned around and left it at that.
Now, I had to hike a mile back to camp. Just after I turned around and started back toward camp, I heard a very loud hiss, followed by rustling, coming from the brush next to me. I looked down just in time to see a very large snake, slithering away from the trail. I had a brief moment of panic, remembering my brush with the rattlesnake once in the Superstitions, and ran fifty feet backwards. Then, I realized that the snake was not rattling, though it was obviously feeling threatened; before it completely disappeared into the underbrush, I managed to see that it was not a rattlesnake but a gopher snake - non-venomous and mostly harmless, if left alone. Whew!
When I returned to camp, it was John's turn to go exploring, so I stayed behind at camp while he went for a hike. He also went as far as I did (but didn't see the snake), then turned around and walked back when he opted not to do the next creek crossing.
Once we were reunited at camp, it was dinnertime. The sun was starting to set, and it was starting to cool down in the canyon. It wasn't going to get very cold - not like it did in Cave Creek - but we did need to change into warmer clothes right after dinner.
Since it never got very cold overnight, we didn't get a true test of our new, warmer sleeping bags, but I will say this: they were toasty warm, and I was quite comfortable in mine.
Mary, on the other hand, got stuck in hers. Her new sleeping bag was much longer than she was, and as a result, she got stuck in the bottom of it and panicked when she couldn't get out, in the middle of the night. The solution that I came up with, in a pinch, was to cinch the bottom of her sleeping bag with a terry-cloth hair band, which I found in the toiletry bag, to prevent her from slipping in too deep. That worked perfectly for her, and so we left the hair band in her sleeping bag every time we packed it up.
The next morning, after getting a good night's sleep in our new bags, we awoke bright and early and started packing up camp to go home. We felt it was important to get an early start - even though we only had a short distance to cover - in order to finish our hike while Mary was still fresh and rested. Additionally, we wanted to take our time hiking, to keep Mary from getting too tired too quickly.
In order to accomplish that goal, we took frequent breaks along the way; that included a stop at the Bull Pen Ranch House, which is one of the points of interest along the West Clear Creek Trail. During our last backpacking trip, we never bothered to stop and show Mary the old house. Sadly, the years had taken its toll on the old house; the roof has since collapsed and it is dangerous to attempt to go inside. (I'm sure it's now a breeding ground for rattlesnakes.) Nonetheless, it is still a neat old building and a piece of history.
We completed our hike around 10:00 a.m., without the usual meltdown and much earlier than anticipated. That gave us lots of time to do some exploring before we had to go home. Instead of returning home via I-17, we had time to take a drive up SR 260, to the Mogollon Rim, to see if there was any snow left over from the snowstorm that had blasted through the state only two weeks prior.
As we approached the Mogollon Rim, we found that there was still a lot of snow on the ground; but since we weren't properly dressed for snow play, we didn't stop and get out. We did enjoy the beautiful drive across the Rim, though; it was nice to see all that snow after such a dry winter.
We soon connected to SR 87 - the Beeline Highway - and with that, we started heading south, towards Payson. It was nearly lunchtime, and we were hungry. Once in Payson, we stopped at the Chili's for lunch, to celebrate the end of a successful backpacking expedition.
And while we were at lunch, my cell phone rang. It was my friend Debbie, who was calling with good news: my friend Marcheta had just given birth to a baby boy. Though he was born five weeks early (a preemie), he still weighed in at over five pounds and was breathing well on his own - thus very healthy and strong. With that, we finished our lunch and hurried home, so that I could go meet baby Tanner...
What a great way to end a nice weekend!
Return to Naked in the Woods.
|This site maintained by John and Heather Verley, © 2001-2010.|