Yesterday I finally did the Pass Mountain Trail, which starts and ends in Usery Mountain Regional Park but for the most part is situalted in the Tonto National Forest. I started out at 7:30 am from the trail staging area. In my backpack I had all the usuals plus 3 liters of water. As one should always do, I also drank a full liter between the time I woke up and arriving at the trail head.
About a hundred feet past the trail head, the path drops down into a deep rocky wash and it was right there where things started out nice. Just as I began ascending the wash, there was a bird on a branch about 3 feet above me and it was just sitting there making beautiful music. I pulled out the camera and snapped a few photos of it. I wish I had thought to take some video of it. The best was yet to come because as soon as I was completely out of the wash, I heard a coyote that couldn't have been more than 50 feet from me. It and another one, which I am assuming was up high on the Vista Trail, were exchanging long and loud howls for several minutes. It was just an awesome way to start the morning.
Just past the wash is the marker for the actual trail loop. Most people choose to go clockwise but when factoring in all disability related issues, I decided to go counter-clockwise. As I have described in past entries, my legs don't bend very far (they bend only as far as an almost chair sitting angle - 80 degrees) which makes scrambling up rock faces somewhat difficult and coming down them extremely difficult.
The first part of the trail heads East and follows the southern slope of Pass Mountain for 1.5 miles. The sun was still very low on the horizon which brings out the most impressive yellows and greens of the surrounding flora. Right after passing the Cat Peaks Pass junction, the trail follows along the fence line separating the park from the national forest, and after that, a few quiet residential neighborhoods appear below. At the 1 mile or so point, a short access trail meets up to join the main trail. At the connection point, there is a large cairn marker.
From here the trail takes a sharp turn to the North and begins climbing toward the saddle (the pass) which is the highest point of the trail. Many people have described this section as "relentless", which made it sound like it was going to be treacherous, but I didn't find it that bad. Yes, it was long and steep, but I took my time and was fine. It was on this stretch that quite a few people passed me by. The one important thing to remember is to stop often and looking behind you. The views are fantastic. Far to the east are the Superstition Mountains which are suitably named since they look like a ghostly apparition.
The final stretch of the ascent, and I'm honestly not sure how long it is, was the most difficult part of the because it required scrambling up bare rock for quite some way. This, at least for me, it requires planning each and every step carefully and a lot of bending/stretching to my very limits.
At the saddle, I met up with almost all of the people who passed me by. One small group of them clapped and congratulated me. Others came up and said hello. Two ladies asked me specifically about my backpack, it's weight, and the inquired if I had enough water and if I knew about keeping properly hydrated. I have to admit I was surprised by the water question but after looking around, everyone else was carrying a single water bottle or none at all. My water was hidden inside my pack and also a CamelBak bag. I still had 2 liters of water left inside.
Though it should not surprise me anymore, many of the people at the top had no idea where they were. They had no water and no map and compass. It was just plain stupid. Even when I showed them my map and where they were, they were still completely clueless and questioned the accuracy of the map or even where they had started.
The view from the saddle is more incredible than I ever expected, almost on par with the view from Inspiration Point in Yosemite National Park. You're looking down into the shallow valley that separates Pass Mountain and the Goldfield Mountains. It was so green and beautiful.
Most people turned around here and went back down, but I continued North and then West until reaching the "Viewpoint", which was just over 1.5 miles (I'm guessing) further. As a side note, along the way, I felt a lot of hot thermal breezes which were quite contrasting to the nice chill of the mild winds. I can imagine it is like a hot cauldron in the summer months. I saw a single hawk taking advantage of the thermals. The view from the titled Viewpoint was pretty cool but nowhere near as awesome as it was at the saddle. Far below and to the West was the Usery Mountain Shooting Range and the distinctive non-stop sound of gunfire could be heard. Being very pro-gun and an NRA member, it didn't bother me at all. They were all doing their thing as I was doing mine.
After the viewpoint, for a stretch of over 2 miles, the trail became much more difficult. There was a constant going in and out of deep rocky washes and took it's toll on my knees. I slowed way down and each step was an effort. By 2:30pm I reached the head of the Wind Cave Trail and the last half mile past that took me 30 minutes. For that last part, I noticed that I was flinching and softly grunting with each step. I got to back to my car just after 3:00pm.
Today I'm a bit sore but it seems to be easing up already, which means I'm in far better shape than I was just a few months ago.
Because of what I describe next, next time I do this I plan on bringing a complete change of clothes.
Hike Trivia that might make some say "ewww!"
Between 6:30am to 3:00pm I drank 4 liters of water (just over 1 US gallon). During that whole time, I did not pee even once. When I arrived home, I weighed 3 pounds less than I did when I started. This means I sweated out 5.36 liters of water (1.4 US gallons). My shirt and shorts were completely saturated and it was damned gross. All this and it was only 72 degrees.
Some changes this hike is inspiring me to make.
- New camera: I took my Canon S5 with me and even this was too cumbersome to carry. I'm thinking I will pick up something like a Canon A560. I bought one for Liz and my mom so I know they take nice shots and the camera is completely pocketable.
- More water: At the end of the hike I had less than 1 ounce left and this was cutting it too close. In the desert, water is the difference between life and death, even on well traveled trails.
- Flavoring: My first CamelBak bag was pretty inert, but new one added a slight plastic flavor to the water. I need to experiment with adding perhaps a little lemon or something to offset it.
- Less Weight: I didn't consider my pack to be heavy, but now that I am familar with this trail, I can cut down on some of the weight and make up for it in extra water. The pack itself, an original Ultimate Direction: Voyager weighs about 3.5 pounds empty, This may be a little on the heavy side for a day pack but it's very comfortable and adjustable in every possible way.