For our next four-day weekend, John and I decided that it
was time for me to put a pack on my back again. It had been almost ten months
since the last time I had carried a backpack. I was aching to be back in the
backcountry again, but the question remained: was I ready to do this? Since we
were planning to do a backpacking trip for New Year's Eve this year, the time
had come for me to find out whether or not I was ready. Weather permitting, we
chose a hike in the Superstitions that would be perfect for my first real
backpacking trip since Mary's birth. (By "real", I mean a "non-luxury-throw-thirty-pounds-on-my-back-and-make-me-hike-across-the-desert"
Preparations for our trip began early in the week, as we began packing our
backpacks for our overnight trek into the Superstitions. By now, this task
should have been second nature for me, but once Mary came into our lives,
everything changed - including the way I pack my backpack. For example, I used
to carry two changes of clothes, but in order to make room for Mary's clothes
I could only pack one set of clothes. Fortunately, Mary's clothes are tiny and
I could pack one extra outfit for her, in case of "spewage". John also brought
only one change of clothes so that he could make room for baby blankets to
keep Mary warm in case it got too cold overnight in the backcountry. We also
had to pack lots of diapers and formula - this is something that you
absolutely cannot skimp on, no matter what. Sure, we can wear dirty drawers
and have nothing to eat out in the wilderness, but if we do that to the baby,
she is going to be a lot more vocal about it. Packing the formula powder
wasn't that big of a deal for us, though, because Enfamil makes single-serve
packets - little foil packets containing enough powder to make four ounces of
formula. They didn't take up much room in my pack, nor did they add any extra
The diapers, however, were a different story, but I digress...
After my pack was finished, I put it on to determine if I was going to be able
to carry it, and to my surprise, it wasn't as heavy as I thought it was going
to be. In addition to that, it didn't put too much pressure on my belly, where
I was still healing internally from the Cesarean. I decided at that point that
we were going backpacking!
Since our trip was going to be a short one, John and I opted to start our
adventure a little later than usual. On Friday morning, December 1 - our
vacation day - the two of us slept in until Mary awakened us at 6:30 a.m. We
lounged around the house for a few hours, doing some chores and making last
minute preparations for our trip. Then, around 9:00 in the morning, we finally
left for the Peralta Trailhead, stopping en route to buy submarine sandwiches
to eat for lunch.
It took us a little over an hour to get to the trailhead. From our house, we
took the 101 to US 60 East. Just about five miles after the freeway ends, the
turn-off for the Peralta Trailhead can be found. (Of course, it's not hard to
miss it - just look for the big tractors tearing up the desert to make way for
a new housing development!) After turning onto Peralta Road, it is another
seven miles on good dirt road to the trailhead. A quarter of a mile from the
trailhead, we stopped to pay our $8.00 at the self-pay station ($4.00 a day
for parking); then, as we entered the parking area, we pulled into a parking
space next to a pair of forest rangers.
We didn't start hiking until 10:50 - about twenty minutes after we arrived -
because we had a nice conversation with the forest rangers. They were
fascinated with our GPS, so John took a few moments to show them some of its
features and to explain to them how it worked. They asked if the GPS was all
that we needed to find our way while we were hiking, but John told them that
we used it in conjunction with topographical maps, which have latitude and
longitude lines on them to help us pinpoint where we are. "Wow, you two really
come prepared," they said...and it was about that time that they noticed Mary,
who was asleep in her car seat.
"And you're taking the little one, too?" they asked, even more fascinated that
we were about to take our baby backpacking. John told them that this was
nothing new to Mary and that she had done her first overnight backpack when
she was only twenty-six days old. Now, one week shy of four months old, she
was about to go on her second trip. I think the rangers admired our bravery;
they wished us a safe trip before sending us on our way.
We stepped onto the Dutchman Trail #104 at 10:50 a.m., stopping first to share
the tradition "trail kiss." The trail immediately begins with a small creek
crossing then climbs steeply up a hill - nothing like a good climb to start
out the day! Then, it gently climbed up the ridgeline overlooking the parking
lot ("Look, honey, I can still see our car!") until it reached the first pass.
After that, the next 0.6 miles was all downhill, at a moderate grade, until we
reached Barkeley Basin. At the bottom of our descent, there was another creek
crossing, this time a dry one with a large pool of standing water off to the
right of the trail. Considering that we weren't sure if we were going to find
water or not on the trail, that was a good sign.
The trail continued along the edge of Barkeley Basin, which was a large desert
expanse that is completely surrounded by mountains and some amazing monoliths.
One such monolith was Miner's Needle, which is hard to spot at first. (We
actually mistook it for Cathedral Rock, which, from a distance, looks more
like a Needle.) Miner's Needle is a large, somewhat pointed rock structure
that looks more like a battleship bow than a needle, until you see if from the
side. After we passed by it, we could see a hole in the rock that made it look
like the eye of a needle.
Another interesting monolith that we saw was Cathedral Rock, which was
actually a series of spires that looked like the towers of a castle. It was a
very impressive structure.
We stopped for lunch two miles into the trail - a half of a mile before the
trail junction with the Coffee Flat Trail #108. By that time, most of the
morning cloud cover was beginning to burn off with the afternoon sun, and it
was becoming a very warm day. That was good news for us, because I was worried
that it was going to get too cold overnight. I was more concerned about Mary
getting sick than anything else. I know that John and I can handle camping
overnight in subfreezing temperatures - we've done it before - but we weren't
sure how Mary would take to being cold all night long.
After lunch, we continued our hike. Upon reaching the trail junction, we began
our hike on the Coffee Flat Trail, which was fairly easy for the first
half-mile as it continued along the edge of Barkeley Basin. It was here that
John stopped to "water the cactus"; he insisted that I keep going and that he
would catch up. When he did, I noticed that Mary was missing one of her hiking
boots! It had fallen off of her tiny foot somewhere along the trail, but it
was really too late to turn back to try to find it. "We'll look for it
tomorrow on our way out," John insisted, and with that we continued along the
A half-mile after the trail junction, the Coffee Flat Trail began to climb up
the side of a hill, towards another trail junction. Here, the trail forked
off; the right fork, or the old trail, continues towards a ranch, and the left
fork - the one that we took - goes all the way to Dripping Springs, which was
our planned destination. It was also here that we saw our last group of day
hikers; there were three ladies, resting under the shade of a mesquite tree.
Upon leaving the junction, the trail began to climb again over the ridgeline
before it descended down the other side of the hill. As we "ran out of up",
John pointed out that we were on the highest point of the trail and that we
only had one more uphill climb to go before we reached our destination, which
was still 3.5 miles away. The climb we had just finished, though, was the
steepest section of the trail. "Good," I said, because I had just realized how
badly out of shape I was!
Soon after the trail flattened out again, we came upon a pair of horseback
riders, so we stopped and stepped off to the side to let them pass. I
suggested that we ask them if they had gone to Dripping Springs, because I
wanted to know if there was water there. (So far, the only water we had found
was a mile into the trail, just before we came to Barkeley Basin.) John did
so, and they replied that there was a lot of water there. That was a big
relief, because we were already running low on water!
Four miles into the trail, we came to Whitlow Creek, where we stopped to take
a "packs-off" break. We found a beautiful area next to the creek that would
have been an ideal campsite, had there been water in the creek. It was
sheltered by several mesquite trees, and there was a blanket of green grass
covering the soft sand of the desert floor. By that time, we were so tired
that we were tempted to camp there, but John insisted that we keep going in
hopes that we would find something better later on.
While John consulted the maps and the GPS to see how far we had to go, I fed
Mary and played with her. Suddenly, I looked down at my boots and noticed that
there was a two-inch split on the right boot, where the uppers met the soles.
"Oh, crap!" I exclaimed, pointing it out to John.
"Oh, crap!" he replied. "And I don't have any duct tape either!"
"Maybe we should start carrying duct tape," I suggested, "in case of
situations like this." (We had recently read about the benefits of carrying
duct tape on backpacking trips in Backpacker magazine. This was one of them.)
"Well, it looks like you're going to need new boots," John said.
"Well, it looks like you know what to get me for Christmas!"
The fact that I was now hiking with broken boots had begun to concern John. As
we continued our hike, he considered stopping short of Dripping Springs and
looking for a suitable campsite as soon as we found water. Fortunately, at
3:00 p.m., as we approached Reed's Water, a mile from Whitlow Creek, we found
a pool of water in the creek and decided that we would look for a campsite
The area surrounding Reed's Water was utterly amazing, and I am glad that we
chose it as our campsite. Upon arriving there, we saw what had to be the
oldest and most impressive saguaro cactus we had ever seen! It stood about a
hundred feet tall, and it must have had fifty arms on it. Even its arms had
arms! Considering that saguaros only grow one arm about once every ten years,
we figured that this cactus must have been around for centuries.
Along the trail, a few feet from the saguaro, was a gate, separating the
wilderness area from the state trust land that bordered it. Beyond the gate,
we found a great campsite that was sheltered by a thick grove of mesquite
trees; beneath the trees, the ground was covered with short, green grass. That
was where we dropped our packs. While I started unpacking, John took Mary with
him to see what there was to see up the trail. They hadn't gone more than a
hundred feet before they came to Randolph Canyon, where the creek was flowing
with water. How perfect!
After setting up camp, we all went to the creek to filter water. While John
pumped water through the filter, I sat with Mary on my lap and let her watch
the creek water flowing along - she was utterly fascinated by the sound and
the sight of the gushing water, until she became hungry and began to fuss for
her bottle. I took her back to camp to feed her; then, when John returned, we
put her in the tent in an attempt to make her take her 4:00 nap.
We spent the evening trying to keep the campfire going, despite the abundance
of dry wood that we had and despite the fact that it wasn't very cold outside
at all. We had been expecting a chilly evening, but it turned out that our
sheltered campsite kept us quite protected from the elements. It was so nice,
in fact, that John was able to wear shorts for most of the evening. We did
keep Mary bundled up in several layers (though it probably wasn't necessary).
That evening, we encountered two problems that we had overlooked when planning
this trip. One problem was bedtime. Normally, when John and I camp alone -
just the two of us - in the backcountry, we go to bed at first star and wake
up at first light. However, Mary's bedtime is 9:00 p.m. Now, after hiking all
day long, when the first star appeared in the sky, all we wanted to do was go
to sleep, but Mary just wanted to stay awake and stare at the campfire (which,
to her, was just as fascinating as the creek water). The evening seemed to
drag on and on forever as John and I impatiently waited for 9:00 p.m. Finally,
we just couldn't take it any longer. At 8:15, I began to get Mary ready for
bed, and once she was fed - at 8:40 - we all retired in the tent with the hope
that Mary would go right to sleep.
That was when we ran into problem number two: sleeping arrangements. During
Mary's first backpacking trip, she was small enough that she fit in between
the two of us in our little two-man backcountry tent. When we took her camping
in the Huachuca Mountains, she slept in the infant carrier, which easily fit
in our gigantic 9X8 tent. Now, Mary was almost four months old, weighed
fourteen pounds, and was already two feet tall. As hard as we tried, we just
couldn't make her fit between us. John found himself crunched into fetal
position at the foot of the tent to give Mary more room. What we should have
done was arrange our sleeping positions while it was still daylight outside;
at 8:45 that evening, there just wasn't enough light to fix our situation, so
we were forced to deal with it the best that we could.
Fortunately, none of this affected Mary at all. Despite the fact that John was
cramped, the wind was blowing, and neither one of us could sleep very well,
Mary slept through the night as normal. We were worried that she wouldn't do
so for one reason or another. We were concerned, for example, that it would
become too cold for her overnight, and that she would awaken and fuss about
it. However, I don't think that it ever got below fifty degrees at our
campsite. Both John and I managed to stay warm without having to mummy
ourselves in our sleeping bags. We could only imagine how warm Mary must have
been under the layers of clothing and blankets that we had put over her! We
were also concerned that she would notice that she wasn't in her crib, but
that didn't seem to make a difference to her.
In the middle of the night, I was awakened by the wind that had begun to blow.
Oh, it's going to be cold in the morning, I thought. I'm not going to want to
get out of my sleeping bag! From that point on, I slept very badly as I
listened to the wind howl for most of the night. Then, at 5:00 a.m., when Mary
woke up, I decided that it was time to start the morning, no matter how cold
it was outside of the tent.
After helping me change Mary, John emerged from the tent and announced that it
wasn't that cold outside at all. Although the wind was blowing, and the area
outside of our campsite was bitterly cold - especially in Randolph Canyon - we
managed to stay warm under the shelter of the mesquite trees. John pointed out
that if we had camped at Dripping Springs as we had planned, we would have
probably been freezing our butts off, because the wind would have whipped
through the canyon and chilled us to the bone. We were fortunate, then, to
have stopped when we did - and I'm glad that we did, because it made our
backcountry experience more enjoyable.
Though we had planned to linger a while at camp and perhaps do a little bit of
exploring, we decided to scrap the idea and break camp early in case I had to
hobble out of there on one boot. John took care of Mary while I packed my
backpack; then, when I was ready, I took over so that John could load all of
his gear. Mary was in an especially good mood that morning, and because of it,
she kept losing her red socks as she kicked her legs into the air. No matter
how hard we tried, we just could not keep those socks on her feet - but we had
to, because it was still a little nippy outside! "You're going to have to hike
behind me all day today," John pointed out as he retrieved another sock.
"You're going to have to be on the look-out for her socks!"
And that's exactly how we spent our return hike: looking out for Mary's lost
clothing. Though we never found her lost hiking boot, I must have picked up
the same red sock three times before we finished hiking!
We broke camp at 9:00. Although it took us four hours to hike to Reed's Water,
it only took us three to hike back to the trailhead. During our return trip,
we seemed to be hiking stronger, and we did take fewer breaks, despite the
fact that we were both tired from lack of sleep.
Since it was Saturday, we expected to see more hikers than we had the day
before, and indeed that was true. Once we were back on the Dutchman Trail, we
met an all-woman group of backpackers, who thought that we were great for
taking Mary backpacking at such a young age. They were planning to camp at
Charlebois Spring, and we told them that we've been there
before, too. After
that, we passed by many day-hikers, including one couple who had to ask us if
they were on the right trail, because they had gotten lost the last time they
were there. (That was interesting, because the Dutchman Trail is not hard to
follow.) John pointed out that were not carrying any water with them, so they
probably weren't going to be hiking much further anyway. (Future Darwin-award
contenders, I would imagine.)
After climbing out of Barkeley Basin - a climb that was only 0.6 miles, but
felt much longer because it was a bit steep - we could finally see the parking
lot, meaning that our journey was almost over. From there, it was all downhill
back to the car, and when we reached the trailhead, we all shared an
"end-of-trail" kiss. We had completed a successful ten-mile backpacking trip -
my first "real" backpacking trip in over nine months! - and when we returned
home that afternoon, we had a nice dinner to celebrate.