Monday, October 12, 2009

Highest spot near Canyon Lake

A few days ago I had a picture of a mountain near Canyon Lake on my blog, and I said I was going to climb it. After sitting in a car for most of Saturday, I was ready to go climbing on Sunday. As you probably know, though, I don't climb. It was a hike up the side of a mountain.

The mountain doesn't seem to have a name. I thought it was big enough that it should have, but I can't find a name anywhere. So I was thinking that after I climbed it, I should name it after me. Then people would remember it, because it would be such a funny sounding name for a mountain.

I'm going to climb that.

I studied the pictures I had taken, and I studied Google Earth, and as I climbed I confirmed my belief that pictures from a distance and Google Earth are no way to plan a climb/hike. It looked like I could walk along that ridge to the mountain, then just go up the side. If that side was too steep, I would just need to go around about 70 degrees counter clockwise, and the climb would be easy.

Ha ha.

I encountered a pile of rocks along the ridge and decided to go around instead of over. Good thing. The other side was steep.

Along the ridge there were very few signs of people. Just one or two gun shells. No beer cans. No cigarette butts. Not even a granola bar wrapper. I was beginning to think that very few people had been up this way when I came across a cairn.

This is usually evidence of lots of people having passed this way.

There was a flat, rock-free spot nearby. I thought maybe somebody had camped there and built a cairn out of boredom. There was no fire ring, though, and no trash, and the saguaros in the area hadn't been shot up. Hmm, these might be real hikers, which means they might have already named the mountain.

Next, I found a really big cairn. My water bottle is on it for scale.

I was almost to the mountain now. The ridge was narrow for the last little bit. That's one of those things you can't see in pictures or Google Earth. Should I go over or around? It looked like going around would involve a lot of ups and downs, so I decided to go over.

A narrow ridge just before the mountain.

Another cairn at the ridge. Going over seems to be the popular route.

Cairn at the other end of the narrow ridge.

As soon as I was on the other end of the ridge, I could see that I wouldn't be going straight up the mountain there. It was steep, and there were small cliffs here and there. So I followed the cairns. Sometimes I could see the next one from where I was. Sometimes there was a little bit of a path worn in the side of the mountain. A lot of times I just went the only way I could and would stumble across the next cairn. It seemed like the trail was just going around the mountain and not up, but maybe that was necessary.

I'm not gaining altitude very fast, but I'm about to loose sight of the ridge.

A rocky peak near the mountain I'm climbing.

As I was going around the mountain, near an adjacent peak, I was going back and forth in one spot trying to find a way around a small cliff. I didn't want to go above it because that was too dangerous. It didn't look like I could get up the other side if I went below it. As I moved around for different viewpoints I stepped off a large rock on the downhill side. It was a fair drop but shouldn't have been a problem. I guess my joints aren't as sturdy as they used to be, though. There was a twinge in my right knee. I ignored it until I took a step and it hurt again. It wasn't bad, just bad enough to make me limp a little, which is not a good thing on the side of a mountain. It seemed to hurt most going downhill. It seemed silly to go uphill when it was going to hurt coming back down.

Taking pictures, deciding what to do.

By now I had figured out how to get around the bottom of the cliff. I decided to see what it felt like going across. It didn't feel good, so I sat down to take some pictures and decide what to do. It seemed a shame to come so far and then turn back. It would be a bigger shame to have to push that 911 button, though. I looked up. The top didn't look far away, but you can never tell from the side of a mountain. I got out my Magellan. I was 500 feet east of the summit, and 100 feet below it. Much closer than I thought. I stood up and thought about the flannel shirt in the back seat of my truck. I meant to put it in my backpack when the weather cooled off a couple of weeks ago, but kept forgetting. It wouldn't be good to be up here at night without it. I took a few steps uphill. It felt fine. I walked back down. Still fine. I decided to go for the top. The more I walked, the better my knee felt.

The Rolls Off Highway Vehicle Area, as viewed from my rest stop.

The trail continued to a ridge on the north side of the mountain that made a gentle slope up to the top. As I approached the ridge, I could hear the wind that was coming up the other side hissing through the needles of saguaros along the ridge. When I reached the ridge, I felt like I was already at the top. The last few feet were just a technicality.

Saguaro Lake as seen from the ridge on the north side.

Saguaro Lake, with Stewart Mountain behind it, and the cairn at the top. I added a rock.

Canyon Lake is also visible from the summit.

The Superstition Mountains and Weaver's Needle.

Apache Trail winding its way down to Canyon Lake.

Down there is one of my favorite parts of Bulldog Canyon.

The Rolls.

I wandered around on top for a while, taking pictures and enjoying the view in all directions. I got another bottle of water out of my backpack and found a peanut butter food bar while I was in there. Thanks, Lauren! It was getting late and I had to start down. I wanted to get back to the narrow ridge on the south side of the mountain before sunset. I had trouble finding the cairns on the way up. They would be impossible to find in the dark. Oh, BTW, I decided it wouldn't be right for me to name the mountain when I had nothing to do with the trail that led to the peak.

Find the green roof of the scenic overlook pullout!

This may be a skeleton by the next time I'm up here.

This is what the trail looks like. Look hard. Use your imagination.

Shadows are getting long.

My knee didn't bother me at all on the way down. Praise the Lord. When I first got on the steep side of the mountain, I lost the trail. Everywhere I looked seemed too steep to descend or cross. I don't think GPS crumbs would help in that situation. If your position is off by 20 or 30 feet, that could be 60 feet in elevation, which is a completely different place. I finally found my way back to the spot where I sat deciding whether or not to go on. There seemed to be several ways down from there, but experience told me that if I didn't go back the way I came, I'd probably be spending the night out in the desert. From that point on the cairns seemed to be easier to find. I only lost the trail twice and it only mattered once. It was just before I got to the narrow ridge. I went back and forth and up and down trying to find the best path back to the ridge. There was a steep drop off between me and the ridge that complicated things. Going below it would be difficult and maybe even impossible, because I couldn't see the whole route. I couldn't remember going above it on the way up but that's probably because I didn't look in that direction. I was looking for cairns, or following the trail. I don't like going above those cliffs because if I fall and slide or roll a little ways, I would go over the cliff. That happened to an experienced hiker in the Superstitions a few months ago. He broke a femur among other bones, but he lived. Anyway, I finally decided the only possible route was above it. As soon as I got over the rise on the other side, I recognized the path to the ridge. A few minutes later the sun sank behind the Goldfield Mountains to the west. I was as good as down, though. The rest of the hike was easy going. I missed a turn once but it was no biggy taking a shortcut to where I was supposed to be. I was back to the truck before I needed a flashlight.


Click below to see all of the pictures.


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