We woke up early today to take on the longest day of our hike so far –> 13 miles. Getting up at 6 am, we unknowingly began a 2000 ft. ascent up the Santa Rita mountains near Mt. Wrightson. We have maps which provide plenty of elevation and topographic information, but I have grown to love the excitement of tackling terrain as it comes on, especially on a well-marked trail.
I was floored for the beauty of the high desert, and the opportunity to hike so near to the summit as I had incorrectly assumed that the route would keep us to the grassland foothills. Instead, creeks fed off snowmelt flowed through every wash as entered a high pine forest and had to perform several gushing stream crossings. Cacti and grassland became checkered with scrub pine and then full-on ponderosa as shade cast over us. It seemed so alpine, and (considering where we had been hiking) so unreal. One of the reasons I prize southeast Arizona is due to these Sky Islands, these biodiversity mounds that shift one from low and dry to cool and wet in a matter of miles.
Coming over a saddle, a massive rushing stream/river filled the ponderosa-choked canyon next to us with the roar of moving water. We stopped to eat, take in the snow-crusted north face of the peak, and then descend as the day began to cool. After a 1000 ft. descent, we found the side-trail leading to Bear Spring. The sides of the mountain seeped with springs and moisture, so the spring wasn’t even pressing for our water needs today. Regardless, I ran down to Bear Spring to find an old tub with crystal clear water flowing from a spring pipe - gorgeous. Janna stayed at the trail fork and ran into a hiker we wouldn’t see again until near the Grand Canyon.
Back on route, Janna and I followed the AZT as it mellowed into the contours of an increasingly widening valley with granite monoliths smoothing lining the tree-filled valley. We passed by a 100-year old mine, skirted large granite and rhyolite cliffs, while the river coursed below. Part of the trail went through a dynamite blasted tunnel, proving the previous history of the route as belonging to a mine track. Keeping to the contour line, wen entered grassy foothills again on the slow descent. The full north face of Mt. Wrightson came into view, covered in snow. We camped near Cave Creek that evening.
The temperature throughout the day stayed low due to super cloudy conditions. Cool day turned into colder evening. After setting up camp, we ate dinner in the dimming light out in bunch-grass meadow. As the sun set to our west, the sky along the Santa Rita ridgeline threw off an iridescent pink that settled into deep black. Janna and I reflected on the conversations that day, steeped in our future, conquering the AZT, goals for next adventures, and our bodies. Per our cold-soaking regimen of cooking, we agreed that from here on out, we would set our food to cold-soak in our packs at 4 pm each day, hopefully giving us a solid 2 hours before dinner drove us to eat. Today had been our first day confidently hitting that interval, thus the tacos for dinner (Fritos, dehydrated beans and rice) were awesome.
As I lay in the Triplex in the absolute dark, a massive pack of some 20+ coyotes broke into howls, the calls hovering seemingly feet away. The night remained studded with their calls, the cries continuing for up to 15 minutes at a time - all on repeat. Coyote calls always make me feel comfort and I slept hard.
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