Monday, August 19, 2013

Cabin In the Woods: Historic Cabin Loop Overnighter



Another backpacking adventure in the books. This trip turned into something we didn't plan for at all, but was still a ton of fun. The original plan was to hike the entire length of The Cabin Loop on the Mogollon Rim in Coconino National Forest. Starting the loop clockwise, we planned on hiking around 10 miles to Barbershop Spring on Saturday, and finish the loop in another 10 miles on Sunday. Well, it didn't quite turn out the way. After a conversation I had with a Forest Ranger, we ended up in a maze of poorly marked forest service roads and even missed the trailhead, completely diverting us off course. By the time we found the trailhead, at a spot marked simply "Houston Draw" it was 1:30 in the afternoon. We knew based off our research that the first few miles of the loop on the U-Bar Trail was confusing and difficult to follow, and since it was late in the day and the gray sky was pounding us with rain and plenty of thunder and lightning, we decided to shorten the route 5 miles by taking The Houston Brothers Trail along Houston Draw straight to Barbershop Spring. 

Cabin
Cabin near Aspen Spring

The area was absolutely beautiful, with tall ponderosa pines towering overhead, and carpets of fern covering the forest floor. Walking in an area like this can make you forget that you're in Arizona. It was very reminiscent of the Cascades, especially with the rain, the ferns, and the clear flowing streams. About 2 miles in from where we parked we reached Aspen Spring and one of the coolest campsites I have ever seen. In a small clearing surrounded by ponderosa pines sat an old log cabin with a covered porch area. In front of the cabin was a large fire ring and right next to Aspen Spring (where fresh water actually flowed from the hillside under an Aspen grove) was an old fire place and chimney. It was all very beautiful and alluring, and I was overcome with the urge to camp there. "But we just started" was Sarah's response to that suggestion. Indeed, we had, but it was such a great place to camp, why not? I mean, isn't that one of the reason we go backpacking, to leave schedules and plans behind, and just do what we want to do? Besides, wasn't I just saying in a blog last week that backpacking isn't about mileage, it's about just being there?


Sarah in front of an old fire place. On the right below the Aspens is Aspen Spring.


It didn't take any convincing. She loved the spot too, so we made camp in the rain 2 miles from where we parked. At first we pitched a tent in front of the cabin, but feeling sorry for the dog (who I was not going to let sleep in my brand new tent) we decided to move it under the cabin's covered "front porch" area, so he could be close to us, and stay dry.


Rocco after a long night.


We explored the area, and saw lots of wildflowers and pretty scenery. We also saw lots of barbwire fencing. In fact, I've never seen so much barbwire fencing in the backcountry before. I found it out of place, and an eyesore. In the early evening I made ready to build a fire. Sarah was having serious doubts about whether I'd be able to do it, since everything was so wet, but I brought an Esbit tab just for such a scenario, and after a lot of blowing and feeding it with small twigs, I got a great fire going that burned through hours of rain.


Wildflowers in adundance

We turned in early, but that night around midnight I was awaken by a very strange sound coming from the woods. At first I thought It must have been a coyote, but as the sound continued I realized it didn't sound like any coyote I've ever heard. In fact, it didn't sound like anything I've ever heard in the woods ever. I counted 6 howls total, but it wasn't a howl as much as a high pitched screech. It almost sounded like screaming, except with no desperation or random pitch change. It was the same howl every time, and it was just really weird. It sounded like it came from something big, because it was really loud and each screech echoed through the forest. I just laid there quietly and listened, wondering what it was. After it stopped I asked Sarah in the dark if she heard it, "Yeah, what was that?!" she replied. 


writer in the wild
Yours truly.

Sunday morning we awoke with the rising sun. The clouds were gone and the morning was crisp and clear and beautiful as the sun's rays shot through the trees and brought the forest to life. A couple backpackers strolled into camp about 8 am. They had been hiking The Cabin Loop since Friday and our cabin was the first cabin they had seen. They described a frustrating (but still fun, no doubt) weekend of constantly losing the trail, and hunkering down in their tents at camp to stay out of the rain. I felt good about cutting the hike short and camping at the cabin. It was such a perfect spot, and we had an amazing time. I definitely want to go back. That area is just too beautiful to be neglected, and I feel like I need to give The Cabin Loop another go...