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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A Story Untold About A Stone Left Unturned

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."  Nietzsche

Though places may differ, the storyline often languishes in a bog of repetition: We hike and bike and walk hundreds of miles per month in oft fetching landscapes.  What can I say. It's what we do. What we've done for as long as I can remember. What we will (hopefully) continue to do in this our Third Act, you know, just in case "Life" turns out to be a Three Act Play. I could live/die with that. "You have your way. I have my way." Who's more correct? Neither.

Here I sit, not that far removed from the longest day of the year, and it's snowing like the 4th of December. To say the least, my outdoor routine has been hammered by a prolonged, recalcitrant "winter of discontent," even though I don't live here all that much during winter.  

I know it's Spring! But spring around here behaves like winter, so it gets lumped in because of "expectations" that if we can just get to March 21st, everything will be coming up roses...or at least daffodils, maybe tulips. Not this year.  Like most blogs this time of year, the BCB runs silent and deep. I write and photograph, but it's seldom blog-worthy. I could blame in on discontent, but truth be known, there is a shortage of quality "fodder."  Not much going on...to write about or photograph...unless you are into weather porn, things like raunchy wind, stone cold, dirty snow, sloppy mud, and dour faces. 

For lack of material and something better to do, I perused my waste basket—a final resting place for wadded up posts that didn't live up to "expectations." You know what they sat about "expectations," that they are the leading cause of disappointment. So don't expect, and you will not be disappointed. For better or worse, A Stone Left Unturned  in March sees the light of day in May, which is more than I can say for those of us who live in Lovely Ouray...
So many creeks this year...gushing ice water.

A man said to the universe: 
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe, 
“The fact has not created in me 
A sense of obligation.” 
                                                  Stephen Crane
Harken back to March, if you will, to a snowier-than-normal Mount Wrightson where Bobbie, Pal Chris, and your's truly, decided to flirt with the Devil...again. Quite ballsy on the heels of defeat in our failed geezer-quest to reach Florida Saddle. It's true: Idle hands and minds are indeed Satan's workshop. Here we go...

I guess I wanted someone or something to blame for allowing relatively scant snow and a measly one-third of a mile stop us short of the "objective."  Yes, it was still a "good hike," but it could have been better had we lunched on Florida's sunny Saddle, sating growling stomachs with well-earned PBJs and quenching our thirst to thrive, if that's even possible at our age. Why not relax and just Exist? Because I can feel the niggardly noose of age tightening around my neck, and I'd rather slide into oblivion in a cloud of dust with no regrets than just exist. Already I digress... 

As mentioned in the  Florida Saddle post, Chris, Bobbie and your's truly, had already hiked Florida Trail a few times. Bobbie and I actually made it to Florida Saddle last year, but there was less snow. Chris, on the other hand, had yet to made it all the way up. Thus an unspoken goal...a little something to drive us when we begin to look at our watches and think about turning around. We ended up turning around short, according to Chris's GPS (are those things ever accurate?) by one third of a mile. Hell, there's people in Appalachia that can spit that far.

Last year's motivation for Bobbie and I was twofold: First, as always, just to see if we could make it. Second, was to do a "feasibility recon" regarding some future attempt to hike from Florida's Trailhead, over the "top," skirt Mount Wrightson, and arrive on the other side at our Bog Springs camp in Madera Canyon. Or, vice versa, depending on logistics. 

It took a few days to recoup from the Geezer Gang's failed attempt to reach Florida Saddle, what with its nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain and above average snow depth. Thus, a successful Florida Canyon to Bog Springs in Madera Canyon hike were slight at best, depending on just how much snow we'd encounter at near 9,000 feet. 

There was yet another front blowing in, said to be packing desert rain and mountain snow. So we were forced to pick a "best day" from a window of bad choices. The morning of the hike, I met Chris at Florida Saddle's Trailhead where he dropped his truck to use as a pickup vehicle. Then we motored back up to Bog Springs, and set foot to soggy Trail, only a few feet from Goldie's front door. 

I was dubious about this hike from the get-go. This was not a typical Arizona winter. It was cooler and windier, with that storm slated to arrive the evening of our hike. It stayed cool so snow hadn't retreated much since our Florida Saddle attempt...that, and our route traversed mostly shady, north-facing trails. But you don't know what you don't know unless you try...

Off we trudged, immediately encountering deadfall from last week's heavy snow and high wind. Being March, it was officially a cold, wet trend...something that would dog us for the entire hike. Nothing like adding a few layers of misery to guarantee a memorable experience, right?

We navigated downed oaks and cottonwoods for a couple miles before they gave-way to sturdier pinion/juniper and, of course, snow. Chris and Bobbie had come prepared with gators. They were short, but at least they would keep most of the snow from filling boots. My gators were back in Colorado.   

We crossed a scree of sizable boulders
The trail was steep enough to have us shedding layers. With short days, time was a factor. Thus our hike was more attack than meander. Vegetation changed and became more dense with each passing climate zone...squeezing, then walling up, the trail into more a corridor. Openings for views and photographs were sporadic at best...enough to see that, in spite of a grinding uphill pace and cat-claw résistance, we were making progress. 

The squeeze

Destination is up and over those rocks

With labored legs and lungs, we finally topped out above the fray, pausing on a broad ridge forested with friendly ponderosa pine. A carpet of soft, damp pine needles tempted us to lay down and take a nap. But wind and colder temps soon overruled that motion; we decided it was best to just kept moving.   

The trail parted a sea of new-growth ponderosa pine, all around 15 feet tall. Unfortunately, ridge winds had deposited 8 to 10 feet of drifted snow. Chris went first, while Bobbie and I waited to see if he'd break through and disappear. Following in his tracks, we crossed without a single "posthole. Beyond the ridge our trail resumed climbing...winding us up through a nearly 20 year old burn zone.

Note the new growth, rising from the ash and char of a devastating forest fire.

Last year, Bobbie and I made it to this same burn zone before turning around. That hike was also a "recon," to determine the feasibility of a winter point to point traverse from Bog Springs to Florida Saddle, and down to Florida's Trailhead. We estimated it to be a 10 plus mile hike, according to the free, albeit highly inept, "not to scale," handout map. The mileage was doable. It was the 8,000 feet of elevation gain/loss that had us concerned. Of course there was way more snow this year, too.

Drifted trail through New Growth ponderosa forest

From this point on it was "new dots" for all of us. Chris found it a scenic, motivating area to hike. That we didn't encounter another soul all day, helped. We supposed that the storm forecast and wind kept all the smart hikers home. 

Having successfully navigated snow to this point, I allowed my hope to soar. "Wow. We're might just pull this thing off after all!"  

Continuing on, the climb moderated...suggesting, to me, anyway, that we might be nearing the apex saddle. By now we were all ready for some downhill. While skirting a sizable sub-peak of Mount Wrightson, the trail went rogue. Judging from the narrow corridor of vegetation, not to mention the distance from camp, I guessed that it was little-used and seldom maintained. Still, if the freaking wind would let up, this would make a lovely hike. 

We paused to watch streams of clouds jet eastward. Wind whooshed through trees and vegetation. It was unsettling. The views, however, were worthy.  

Heading east, but looking back west,  Elephant Head stands out. Directly above it and some 80 miles distant is Baboquiveri Peak,
 a "sacred" mountain on the Tohono Oʼodham
 Indian Reservation, not far from Why, Arizona.  

This "trail" must have been a bitch to construct. Note the blue mine tailings holding pond on the left, with specs of Green Valley below.

A zoomed in shot of Elephant Head and Baboquivari. Directly under Elephant Head, in Madera Canyon is our barely noticeable Bog Springs camp.  See Goldie's roof?
What a thrill to pass beneath 9,500 foot Mount Wrightson...a summit we've bagged a half dozen times during winters with less snow.
Another point of interest is the barely discernible Mount Hopkins Observatory on top of the the peak in the middle center of the above photo.   
Internet photo

One final max-zoomed shot of Elephant Head and Babo!

Looking toward Tucson and the Catalinas.

A trail gone rogue...
Traversing through a burn area

One of several screes of colorful rock.
Hey Chris...you sure this is the trail?
After a about a mile of skirting Wrightson's sub-peak on the Rogue Trail, we reached an 8,400 foot saddle. Finally, we had a view of our Florida Saddle destination. It looked a long ways off.

From there the trail was supposedly south-facing, which, to us, likely meant "snowless."  The drop down from the saddle was steep and significant, such that I remember thinking: "I hope we don't have to hike this Bitch back out of here." 

By this time our legs were feeling all 3000 feet of elevation gain. We got strung out...in and out of snow...stumbling down to Armor Springs where a mere trickle of water seeped out from under a humongous, solitary and out-of-place looking boulder. 

A couple hundred feet beyond Armor Spring, the "trail" disappeared under a considerable blanket of north-facing snow. 

Look close!  Chris and Bobbie, approaching Armor Spring. That's a big boulder...
Beyond Armor Spring: Off course and tired...looking for anything indicating a trail

So we looked for "clues" to help find our snow-covered trail... corridor-like open space, saw-cut deadfall...anything that might tip us off as to the trail's whereabouts and direction. Nothing. Chris pulled out his trusty GPS and studied the tiny screen. "Looks like we're above the trail. It's down there somewhere."  He post-holed through a thicket of thorns, over deadfall, down the mountain...then rechecked his GPS screen. The "You are here" pin had stuck the trail. 
"I'm on it!" 

I eye'd the deadfall, the thicket of thorns, Chris's deep postholes. Perhaps my former burst of optimism was premature. Jesus. 

There comes a point in every misadventure where common sense eclipses giddy optimism. It's that point where reality pulls the plug on one's reservoir of hopes and dreams. There is a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach at the realization that it's going to be a long day...maybe even a long night. Instead of following Chris down, I decided to go up...up where I could get a vantage point from which to assess our predicament. 

My feet were already wet and cold. Now I'm standing in shin-deep snow, wearing shorts in a gale wind, waiting for Chris to pull a rabbit out of his iPhone. Bobbie's a hundred yards behind me, trying to decide who to follow, Chris or me. I scanned the burned zone country between us and Florida Saddle... rugged, steep, off-camber shit...and cover with snow. Stands of charred trees lent a dismal air to my confidence. "You know, we're still going away from camp," I say into the wind.

Using a GPS as a step-by-step map is a slow, cumbersome way to route find...not to mention a serious drain on batteries. Even though I could see Florida Saddle, I thought we needed a visible trail to have a shot at reaching it without injury. Wobbly legged and tired, I began to think about how one misstep could flip a day-hike into a story on the evening news. Ain't no helicopters gonna come to our rescue in this kind of wind...

Off Camber.   There were some sketchy spots where I reminded Bobbie and Chris to be ready use their hiking poles for a "self-arrest" maneuver,  just in case footing was lost.
Bobbie and Chris, Strung out


Maybe it was the incessant buffeting gale...or the haunting moans and creaks of charred, standing-dead trees bending to and fro in the wind...or the drudgery of post-holing through an unsightly landscape reminiscent of a firebombed war-zone. To say that it was un-cheerful is a supreme understatement. I felt it in my bones...the unease of a brewing storm and falling barometer.   

We spy Florida Saddle just below those distant mountains. But there is snow all the way and the trail is an elusive SOB.

Again there comes another point in time. It's usually somewhere beyond halfway, where turning around becomes unthinkable, if not untenable, especially when it entails retreating via a long uphill slog through snow and muck, followed by miles of knee-pounding downhill that offers nothing new to to take your mind off the agony of hours and miles and defeat. We were so close!  There we were, sidling up and down a snowy north-face, confused and exhausted...moving at a pace where "progress" is more illusion than actual, and far from being a straight line.

Determined, but concerned...

The wear and tear of post-holing through ice crusted snow

I saw no trace of the trail to Florida Saddle from my higher vantage point. Just snow, deadfall, and considerable descending and re-assending. According to the "map," Florida Saddle was only 4 tenths of a mile, but to look at what laid between here and there? it might as well have been a dozen. My watch read 1:45 pm. We had started at 8:45 am. It gets dark around 5:30 to 6:00. And a storm is coming. 

It was late. Our legs were shot. And we are still going away from camp. What the fuck, people. Why am I the only one that seems concerned? What if the last 4 tenths of a mile is as bad as it looks? What if it's worse?  

I could still wiggle my toes, but it had been quite some time since they had any feeling. Rings of crimson wicked out from bloody shins...staining ice-shards of crusted snow that cut flesh like little razors. 

I shout down to Chris, who's still inching along with his GPS. 
Time to bag it, Chris. I don't want to spend the night up here.

Manzanita blossoms...

"Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."   Sydney J. Harris

Perhaps the "stone" will be turned next year. 
(Note to self: Bring crampons and long pants)

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.  
                                                     T. S. Eliot

Peace out,
mark and bobbie, watching it snow in  Lovely Ouray...


  1. Wow. Seems like the weather is out of the ordinary everywhere...you hiked way way further than I would have in that situation. Photos are lovely, as always though, so thanks for sharing!

  2. Can't comment on the hiking. But the weather...well, we were trapped in Page/Lake Powell for 3 days do to weather. Now we're at Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon N.P. and staying longer than expected due to a snow-generating storm system. The same system that you are dealing with, and the same system our friends are dealing with outside of Cooke City in Northeastern Yellowstone. We are all hunkered down. And summer is just around the corner.

  3. Long pants??? I can't imagine you hiking in long pants...

  4. Nice write up of our little “misadventure”. It was hard to pull the plug on that hike, but of course it was the right thing to do. From the vantage point of my comfy couch right now that day actually looks like a good time. Chris

  5. A good time? Oh how we forget the pain when sitting on couches :) If it hadn't been for me, you would have made it! Next time...

  6. Harrowing. Now I am wondering about all of the other misadventures that you don't deem blog-worthy.


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