Mile 357, Four Peaks Wilderness

Another brutal day.

That word again. I seem to be using it much too often.

Chris and I started with a pleasant hike down Cottonwood Canyon toward Roosevelt Lake on the Salt River. A red rock canyon in its upper reaches, it transitions abruptly to riparian forest, filled with Arizona Walnut and Sycamore trees, the latter leafed out for the first time on my hike.

The trail, true to its nature, takes hikers nearly down to the lake, then heads back up into the flanking hills for a few steep climbs before finally bringing us down to the marina with its store.

Walking down to Roosevelt Lake

They had only 3 kinds of soda there – Sprite, root beer and Fanta – and no Cheetos, so I drank two Fantas and a Sprite and ate an ice cream sandwich.

Angelina was there. She is a Russian woman whom I’d hung out with in Oracle and saw briefly in Superior. She has hiked the CDT, a very challenging trail, and was considering quitting the AZT – too brutal. Her plan is to get to Phoenix, rent a car, drive to Las Vegas and sit by the pool for a week, sipping icy cold drinks. At that point she may be ready to return to the trail. She needed a break.

Chris, whom I’ve been hiking with since Superior is also taking a few days off with his wife, who is driving out to meet him.

I said my farewells and headed back into the mountains in the midday heat.

The nearest water — which is the key marker of distances — is Buckhorn Creek. Only seven miles, but needing a climb of 3000 feet, followed by a descent of 500 feet, followed by a climb of a 1000 feet and another descent of 500 feet to reach. Even with my sun umbrella, I had to stop frequently to preclude heat stroke as I labored up the steep and switchback-free trail.

One mercy was that the terrain has changed from basalt to granite, meaning that the trail is gravelly, rather than covered with loose rocks.

But it was tough, yet another 5000-foot day of total elevation gain. By comparison, the PCT averages about 3000 feet of EG through the Sierras. If I were not ending my hike in two days, I’d be thinking pretty seriously about a few days of R&R.  Icy cold drinks by a pool sounds very good indeed. These mountains – and trails – are kicking my ass.

An elderly (meaning older than me) couple passed by at dusk, looking completely destroyed. They say that the trail ahead is (yes) brutal: steep and wildly overgrown. But that’s tomorrow’s problem. Tonight I have a good ridgeline camp, a delicious meal of homemade corn chowder and sufficient whisky to sip as the sun goes down. That’s good enough.

The stars are out now and they are glorious. There are no skies like Arizona skies. My first memories of stars are of sitting on my Dad’s lap in a lawn chair in our backyard in Tucson. He probably explained what they were and thus gave me my first awareness that the universe is vast and we are tiny.

But what I remember is feeling warm and safe and loved.

And maybe this is why I like to cowboy camp. I may look up and see a cold empty universe, but what I feel is a father’s love.