Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Backpacking Fiasco

 How may of my trip reports begin with "The original plan was...?" This was one of those trips where nothing went right, even before I stepped out the front door. Since I had three days off in a row, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity for some backpacking. I thought I would head into the Superstitions for a few days. Enjoy some peace and quiet. Enjoy some solitude. My plan was to just "wing it". I would figure it out as I went.

Flowers are blooming
 It was Monday morning and I couldn't find my map. I had last used it back in December. The last time I was in the Superstitions. But now it was gone. Not to be dissuaded, I decided to visit the Cave Creek area of Tonto National Forest again. My "go to" spot, if you will. Plus, I had the map. At the trailhead I knew right away that I shouldn't be there. My hip was killing me right out of the gate. Sciatic pain screamed down my leg into my calf with every step. I didn't think it would be that bad. A mile in I was already limping. I considered turning around, but I just didn't want to quit. I could simply just ignore the pain. Like I do every day. Three miles in and I needed a break. I found a nice shady spot and lied down. I stretched my leg and did some other exercises. I considered turning around again. I was in too much pain for a solo jaunt through the desert. I clearly was not in the proper physical condition for backpacking. But I had made it three miles, so I decided to camp right there.

Me camp. Argh!
I pitched my tarp as a windbreak and collected firewood. Even that was painful. I lazed the afternoon away and cooked dinner with my alcohol stove. Chicken and mashed potatoes ala freeze dried. Good stuff. I turned in about 8 pm. Around 10 pm I awoke to the sound of breaking brush near my camp. Something big was near. I ignored the sound. There are no bears in the low desert. But the sound didn't abate. Something was hanging around my camp. I got out of bed, turned on my headlamp, and scanned the darkness. Nothing but shoulder-high brush and tress. I crawled back into bed. Not 10 minutes later I heard breaking branches followed by huffing and puffing. This time I jumped out of bed. I scanned the dark with my headlamp again. Again I didn't see anything. I decided to reignite my smoldering fire. I found a large branch and snapped it in half. The sound of the snapping branch pierced the night, and startled whatever was in the brush. It ran toward the creek and jumped in the water. I could hear its footfalls as it splashed across the creek and crawled up the embankment on the other side. 

I sat by the fire for the next hour, just making as much noise as I could. By then I was thoroughly spooked. There are no bears in the low desert. I have never seen bear-sign in that area before. The only large predators in that area are mountain lion, but I reasoned that it couldn't have been a mountain lion because lions are silent. If a lion wanted to eat me, it could have crept up to my bed and locked its jaws around my throat without me even knowing. It could have been a coyote, but I didn't think so. The coyotes I have seen in the desert have been very small. I reasoned that it had to have been either a deer or a javelina, or maybe even a herd of javelina. I have run into javelina in the desert and they have not been aggressive, so I knew that I had nothing to fear from them. Eventually my reasoning quelled my fear, and I went back to bed.

At 3am I awoke again. This time from a heavy wind pounding my tarp. I had pitched the tarp in a windshield configuration expecting high winds, but the wind had changed direction by 3am. I crawled out of my bag and tightened all the guylines. The wind grew stronger and stronger and I couldn't fall back asleep. Finally around 3:30am, a huge gust literally pulled my stakes right out of the ground, and my tarp collapsed on top of me. I had anticipated this might happen, so I had stacked large stones on top of my tent stakes, but they had been flung aside by the wind battering my tarp. I got up and drove the stakes back in. This time I piled up boulder sized stones on the tent stakes. All the while, the bending and lifting was shooting pain down my leg. By 4am the wind had grown even stronger and it pulled another stake from the ground causing a corner of my tarp to flap. I got up and drove the stake in again, and piled 3 boulders on top of the stake. Then I lowered my trekking poles about 6 inches, drastically reducing the angle of the windshield, and thus surface area for the wind to hit. It worked perfectly. I wanted to kick myself for not thinking of it sooner. Such an obvious solution.

Cave Creek
I awoke with the sun around 7:30am. After such a brutal night I felt worse than I did when I went to bed. After a cold breakfast of granola and powdered milk, I packed up and headed back. The hike out was worse than the hike in. Of course, it was beautiful, and I did get to see many wonderful desert birds including a red tailed hawk, ravens, geese, and some cactus wren. The beauty of being there made up for the pain, but clearly I need to see a doctor before I do any more backpacking. I just don't have it in me at the moment. I guess for now I'll have to take it easy. Thanks for reading.