Sierra Estrella Highpoint, Part 2: A Weird and Grisly Outdoor Experience…

This post is the continuation of my Sierra Estrella Highpoint experience (be sure to check out Part 1). It describes an experience in the outdoors that may be disturbing to some readers.

Heading down the north side of the mountain just to the west of where I’d come up, I found the going pretty easy and fun. I faintly caught a whiff of something dead and thought nothing of it. There were plenty of places where a bird or small mammal could wedge themselves under a rock. I continued down the mountain the smell disappearing and I forgot about it nearly as quickly.

And then my senses overloaded. All at once, the smell was back much much stronger, I saw a man laying on a ledge. And I was scared. Immediately I began to think I was in danger. I hadn’t rationally processed that he was dead although my more primal instincts seemed to understand and I screamed. I tried to take in what I was seeing and make rational judgements and observations but all I wanted to do was get away, and fast. He was lying prone, shirtless, and had removed his boots. One of his heavy leather boots sat next to him and I didn’t see a pack or any personal belongings.

I scanned around the ledge from my position hoping I wouldn’t have to get any closer to continue down the mountain. I was able to proceed pretty much directly downhill before traversing east to the saddle. The whole way there I had to force myself to focus on the descent; I still wasn’t on flat ground and although the going was fairly easy, the terrain was steep and I didn’t want to fall.

At the saddle, I briefly allowed myself time to freak out a bit. I called F and talked to him while I brought my breathing under control. Once I could speak calmly, I called 911. Despite my proximity to the highpoint with its radio towers, explaining my location to the dispatcher wasn’t that easy. Eventually we were on the same page and I gave her directions to the van (I also explained where to find the SummitPost directions for a second source). She told me that deputies would meet me there. Happy to be moving, I explained that I would be several hours but was headed in that direction.

My descent from the saddle was as rapid as I could make it. I wanted to put ground between me and the grisly sight. I tried to rationalize that it was simply a dead body; someone who had likely died of exposure but I was still nervous. Nearly two miles down the hillside my legs were still a little shaky and I jumped more than once at a bird call.

Finally, I was on the flat ground of the valley floor walking as fast as my tired legs could take me. Just as I started to think I should be approaching the van, a helicopter appeared from over the peak. I breathed a sign of relief, the presence of other people (not to mention some so clearly official) really made me feel better.  I tried to provide the best description of the area that I could to the officers. They seemed a little bit astounded that I was out alone for that many miles in an area with no roads or trails.

Darkness was falling quickly and the helicopter soon called off the search for the night. I provided the deputies with my information and assured them they could call me with any questions as they tried to locate the corpse. I was tired, dirty, hungry, and emotionally exhausted. I just wanted to get home, showered, and cuddle with my boys.

All evening I felt cozy and safe but still slightly unnerved. What had happened to this man? How long had he been there? What was he doing there? (The side of a remote, rarely climbed peak isn’t somewhere you just find yourself, you know?) It’s strange to think that I could have just climbed the high point and continued down, never knowing I was within a half mile of him. Or, I could have climbed down from Peak 4232 the way I went up, passing within yards of him.

The next day, I received a phone call from the Gila River Indian Community Police department. As it turns out, Peak 4232 is in their jurisdiction. They asked me to clarify a few points I’d shared with Maricopa County Sheriff and said they’d call if they needed me. Several hours later, the phone rang again. They wanted me to come out and join the MCSO in their helicopter. I’d told deputies several times that I remembered him being somewhere that would be difficult to see from the air but that I was willing to come help.

We weren’t able to locate the corpse from the air and also weren’t able to find a place to land where I could exit the helicopter with a mountain rescue trained officer to look on the ground. I was able to better help them constrain their search area before we returned to the landing zone.

I did the best I could to answer all of their questions about what I’d seen. The question I didn’t have a very good answer to was “What were you doing up there?” I babbled a bit about highpoints and fun rock scrambling. Then the Gila River detective looked at me sternly and said, “You know, it isn’t safe to be hiking out here alone.”

My blood boiled. And then he continued, “Do you carry anything out there for protection? A gun? A knife?”

Annoyed I flippantly responded, “A pocketknife?”

Suddenly back in fighting form, I wondered if he would have told me it was unsafe if I were a man. After flying over the beautiful country I’d hiked the day prior, I was convinced that despite my extremely rare experience, being outside is completely worthwhile. Sometimes it’s not possible to find someone to hike with you, so you go alone and it’s better than not going.

Beth in helicopter

Sierra Estrella Highpoint, Part 1: Desert Mountain Happiness

After my hike through Sycamore Canyon, I was ready to do a bit of highpointing. I spent some time browsing peakbagger.com and settled on tagging the summit of the Sierra Estrella mountains. Visible from throughout Phoenix, the Sierra Estrellas are a northwest-southeast trending range between Avondale and Maricopa.

To reach the beginning of the hike I had to drive all the way round to the southern flanks of the mountains. The roads weren’t in really good shape but the going wasn’t too bad (follow the directions on summitpost.org not your GPS…) Although it sounded like I could drive right up to the base of the mountains, I reached a wash with deep sand about 4 ½ miles from where I expected to start my hike. The van was definitely not capable of this and I knew it was as far as I could drive. I pondered the situation for a minute and decided that it was a lot of extra hiking but it was flat and along a road so I shouldered my pack and headed out.

Sierra Estrella ridgeline

For a long time, it seemed like the mountains just wouldn’t get any closer. Finally, I reached the powerlines that I’d hoped to begin my hike from. I headed up into the basin hopping along big boulders in the wash. As directed by my beta, I headed up the rightmost drainage to attain the ridge. It was a pretty stiff climb but it was a lot of fun with picking a route and scrambling up boulders.

Sierra Estrella

Rainbow Valley

Assent route

On the ridge, I got a good look at the summit (with the radio towers). What really attracted my attention was the summit on the left: Peak 4232. I decided that I had plenty of daylight, water, food, and energy to add it to the plan for the day and set off for the Sierra Estrella summit (4,512′) with new energy. The whole ridge hike, I kept my eye on the drainage coming down from the saddle between the two peaks to determine if it was passable as it would be a much quicker descent route.

Sierra Estrella HP and Peak 4232

From Sierra Estrella HP, I had great views north towards Phoenix and south towards Rainbow Valley and the Maricopa Mountains. It was hard to believe that four million people were just to my north. I’d worked hard to get to that perch and was feeling pretty relaxed and pleased with myself and dreaming about future hikes. More than nine miles in, my legs felt good and I was starting to mark this down as one of my Best Hikes Ever.

Sierra Estrella

Phoenix Valley

Northwestern Sierra Estrella

Down at the saddle between my two objectives, I tried to figure out my route up Peak 4232. It was a fun assent with some 4th (perhaps low 5th) class moves. I was confident and moved quickly up the north side of the peak. Peaks like this with just a couple of easy but heady moves are my favorite (Thielson was another).

Peak 4232

Southeastern Sierra Estrellas

There was one move that I didn’t really want to down climb so I checked out a descent from the south side of the mountain. I scrambled around and reached a point where I thought I could make the move. I thought about it. And then I thought about it some more. This mountain was definitely not worth dying on so I headed back up to the summit a little unnerved that I would have even considered doing something that dangerous.

More on the hike tomorrow!

Sunday Sermon

“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

Alan Alda

 

 

 

 

 

 

–Alan Alda

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Backpacking

It’s been a long time since I shouldered my pack and headed out for a few nights. It’s been even longer since I hit the trail with Sprocket. F was headed down towards Phoenix for a motorcycle ride so Sprocket and I seized our chance and headed out north of Clarkdale, Arizona.

Sycamore Canyon

Beth on trail

We descended down from the parking lot to the bottom of the valley floor. Sprocket took a nice swim in the creek so he’s be a little cleaner for tent sharing and then we headed north into the canyon. There is no camping allowed for the first four miles of the trail but we dallied here and there so Sprocket could enjoy the rare Arizona water.

Parsons Spring Trail

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Most of our hike was pretty lonely but we did run into one couple so I asked them to snap a picture of Sprocket and I.

Beth & Sprocket

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sprocket

At the end of the Parsons Trail, the stream disappeared below ground and we made our way north along the cobbles between boulders the size of our van. I must admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for Arizona backpacking—in the Northwest and Montana water is pretty much available anywhere you need it, Arizona is not like that.

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

By about 3pm, I could tell that Sprocket was about done and honestly, my feet were pretty much done with rock hopping so we called it quits for the day. I set up the tent and then we basked in the sunlight before it dipped below the canyon wall. Then we moved inside and cuddled up, Sprocket even found a way to put his head on my pillow and stick his nose in my sleeping bag.

Sycamore Canyon

In the morning, we headed further up the canyon. We found some water and kept trekking north. When the canyon opened up, we scrambled up the western bank to find ourselves on the Sycamore Basin trail. Once we hit the trail, we turned back to the south.

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon

Sprocket on Sycamore Basin Trail

Sycamore Basin

I’m really glad that I made the loop instead of an out and back in the canyon because Sycamore Basin was beautiful! I always find myself drawn to the inner canyon floor but sometimes a mid-level of the canyon can be astoundingly beautiful.

Sprocket

Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Basin

View north

Sycamore Canyon

Hiking in Sycamore Basin

As we climbed above Sycamore Basin, I got a text message from F saying that he was sick and headed back to the RV. I took a quick glance at the map and decided that we’d make it home that night instead of staying out another night. Sprocket, trooper that he was, followed me as I picked up the pace over Packard Mesa. The trail wasn’t always really apparent but Sprocket was always there right behind me.

Sprocket

As we descended back to the canyon floor, Sprocket jumped out in front of me despite having done a really long day for him (we wound up doing about 15 1/2 miles). I had planned for a fairly leisurely three day trip that turned into two pretty tough days. As always though, I wouldn’t trade my time exploring a new place for anything!

View up Sycamore Canyon

Black Hills Traverse

If you’re not in a hurry, taking the long way is usually a lot more fun. Joined by Bob of Cheaprvliving.com, we headed out of Cottonwood for Prescott Valley a couple weeks ago and decided that the scenic route was the way to go. Instead of going directly via 89A, we headed out towards the little community of Cherry. The road wound up into Arizona’s Black Hills and the vegetation became a little thicker. Continuing to climb north of Cherry, we found ourselves in a beautiful pine forest.

Controlled burn

Along the way, we pulled off the road to admire the view towards Sedona (and more distantly towards the San Francisco peaks). Sprocket joined me for a bushwack to the top of the nearest hill.

View from Black Hills

Black Hills

Black Hills

Sprocket

The road continued towards Mingus Mountain but most importantly, we were able to get up high and see all the things that there are to explore here in Northern Arizona. Adventure consistently begets more dreams of adventure!!!

Arrival in Arizona

It was still a bit cold up in Utah so we decided it was time to make the jump down to Arizona. We found a good place to relax just north of Camp Verde. While F took care of some of the necessities of life on the road, Sprocket and I went for a short hike:

Arizona

Arizona

After our hike, I changed and headed out for a run. I’ve never been much of a trail runner but veered up a creek bed for a bit. It was a lot of fun and I’m hoping to do more of it soon! Eventually my creek bed petered out and I jumped back on the asphalt and found an awesome dirt road to run on: gentle ups and downs with beautiful views of the Verde Valley.

Panorama near Camp Verde

Goosenecks State Park

Leaving Comb Wash behind, we headed for Goosenecks State Park. I’d never visited and was excited to check it out. F was excited to park the trailer to best a picture of a tent near the canyon rim (taken by Bob during a visit to the park recently).

After getting the trailer parked, we settled in to enjoy the view:

View from the "house"

Porch

I believe this is called The Good Life, yes?

Beers on the "porch"

Goosenecks of the San Juans

In the morning, I ducked in and out of the trailer trying to take some sunrise pictures amidst the wind. I got some decent ones of the light but my favorite is this shot of Sprocket contemplating the canyon:

Sprocket Contemplating

Sunrise at Goosenecks

Sunrise at Goosenecks

Comb Wash

Packing up our spot near Devil’s Canyon, we headed south into Blanding. I went for a run through town then we headed out to see Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum. Usually the museum costs $5 each but we were able to check it out free since we were attending a lecture about Chaco culture in the southwest. After the lecture, we headed down to Bluff and visited Ft. Bluff museum. We made a quick stop at Sand Island Recreation site for Sprocket to get in a bit more swimming and then made our way down to Comb Wash.

Southern Utah vistas

Backside of Comb Ridge

Desending into Comb Wash

Less than a mile down Comb Wash road we found a perfect camping site. F prepared to go for a motorcycle ride the next day and I plotted a hike. (Sprocket was suffering from a toe injury and was given trailer sleeping duty.) The next day dawned sunny and beautiful, if a little but blustery. I decided to pack my new tripod along with me and discovered that the two ice axe straps on my Teton Sports pack held the tripod quite nicely. (I’ve added a carabiner on the bottom so we’ll see if that improves vertical stability on my next adventure.)

Teton Sports

I chose to hike up a large wash less than a mile north of our campsite. It was fun to hike through and marvel at how this is just one of many, many such canyons around the southwest.

Reflection

Exploring a wash

Exploring a wash

Exploring a wash

Lizard

After a bit, I spotted this blobby pinnacle hanging out in the desert so I headed over to see if I could climb it. I definitely made the climb as difficult as possible by traversing around it on a small ledge before finding my way up onto its summit. The view from the top was pretty incredible though!

Pinnacle

Self portrait, Beth

Comb Wash Pano

I started working my way back to camp via a different wash to my south. Unexpectedly, I chose the one that lead right to the trailer!

Hiking near Comb Wash

Exploring near Comb Wash

Waterfall in wash

It was a fun hike. I was sad that Sprocket couldn’t come with me. This was just his length with lots of places to sniff and lots of sand to roll in!

Devil’s Canyon

After a few nights at our property, we finally hit the road. Our first night was spent just south of Monticello near Devil’s Canyon. We’re still getting used to the long train of adventure and had to look around for quite awhile to find a place to turn our trailer around! When we finally found a spot, we headed out for a bit of a walk.

Tree near Devil's Canyon

Sprocket heads to safer ground while F contemplates how strong his perch is:

Devils Canyon

South Mountain

After the boys headed back to camp, I wandered out to the Canyon itself. I was sort of disappointed that it was rather late in the day, I would have loved to crawl down there and explore.

Devil's Canyon

Beth at Devil's Canyon

Devil's Canyon

Devil's Canyon

On The Road Again

Aaaaand, we’re back!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here as we prepared to leave Ridgway and head south for the winter. First we had to figure out what to live in, where we were going, and what we were taking. It turned out that we bought a toy hauler so we could bring a whole lot of gas powered toys. It’s a new experiment for us (after the Sprinter, the Scamp, and our Chevy van).

Whenever you buy a new vehicle there’s always a flurry of activity while trying to get things ready for use. On top of that, there’s the transitioning from apartment living (with a grocery store next door) to living on the road.

Sprocket for one, is totally excited to be traveling again. This is how our dog shows excitement:

As it turns out, we’re pretty used to this style of living. It didn’t take me long to be on the lookout for free coffee, an electrical plug in, and some sunshine:

Handsome is pulling wizard-like feats of giant trailer turnaround on Forest Service roads and throwing sticks for SP in reservoirs:

I’m trying to incorporate running in to the day:

And we’re back to blogging to you from McDonalds:

It’s adventure time!