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Sept. 15, 2008 South Mountain National Trail Hike

(SEE Photo Albums for photos of this hike)

Yesterday (Sunday) Regina dropped me off at the Pima Canyon trailhead of the South Mountain Park in South Phoenix around 5:45am. Pima Canyon itself was difficult to find, but once in the lot the rest of the hike was very easy to follow.

Unfortunately, I started the hike a little too late. I really wanted to start off at 5am to beat the sun's heat for the estimated 6 hour hike. From Pima Canyon there is an approximately 1.5 mile hike to the beginning of The National Trail, which makes for the backbone of the entire South Mountain Park trail system. The total length of the trail is about 15 miles.

The night before and the morning of I had loaded my GoLite pack with all multiday essentials, such as sleeping bag, bivy sack, tarp-tent, cooking supplies, etc, along with a day's worth of food and what I believed to be a day's worth supply of water - about 3.5 litres. (wow, was I wrong about the water, as you'll see!)

So, setting off for the trail heading west I quickly began seeing mountain bikers, day hikers and trail runners. I suspect they wated to beat the heat as well. The National Trail can be roughly broken into two equal segments at the Telegraph Pass Trail that cuts through it; what I call the "West National" and the "East National". I started at the beginning of the East National. Here there are many of the previously mentioned outdoors people, due to the relatively easier, smoother and shadier terrain. There were many offshoot trails on this segment that I wanted very much to explore, such as "Fatman's Pass", "Hidden Valley" and "Dobbin's Lookout", but I needed to continue on the National.

A few bikers had asked if my plan was to do the whole National Trail and were surprised when I said yes. They mentioned that the mountain bikes never go along the West National due to its "technical" trails.

I soon found out what they had meant: the West National was markedly more strenuous in its climbs. In addition to this its declines were steeper, most of the trails were against very steep cliffs (not for mountain bikes!), there were not many areas of shade and the rocks seemed to be much more loose. However, the loss of luxuries were easily made up in much more beautiful views of the Phoenix Valley and of the South Mountain ranges themselves. I had only seen 2 other people in this desolate West National segment and it seemed as if they were just passing through in using the smaller side trails.

There were 2 interesting abandoned, and fully open, mines along the West National.They both had openings about 7-8 feets in diameter. Neither one had any fencing or walls to protect people from falling in. In both cases I peered down into the mine shafts. I couldn't see the bottom in either case and I was able to make out light piercing the opening many dozens, if not hundreds, of feet down! Anyone falling into one of these mines could have easily have been killed and probably not even heard from for a long time.

It began getting very hot and I was chugging my water down more frequently trying to be as conservative with it as possible. My Balance bars were becoming liquid chocolate messes within their wrappers. The occasional breeze that flew past was an indicator to remove my desert hat and to cool my head down.

There wasn't much in the way of big animals. The largest animal I had seen was a jackrabbit that nearly gave me a heartattack after jumped in front of me! It then "hid" behind a thin bush as I walked by. I don't know who the rabbit thought it was fooling! Next to the jackrabbit and many ravens in the sky I saw no other larger animals. However, there were a surprising number of green caterpillars all over. I was hoping to see a Diamondback rattler under a rock along the way (not IN the way, of course!)

I had worn New Balance running sneakers for the hike, which was good and bad under the circumstances. On the one hand towards the end of the hike they were becoming more and more unstable and many pebbles were making their way inside the shoes. On the other hand they were very light and conformed to my ultralight backpacking philosophy.

I had approximately 4 more miles to go and about 1/2 a quart of water left. I had to make a decision to continue to the end or stop it short at the next available trailhead, 2 miles short of the end. I opted for the latter decision, due to the heat and my increasing thirst for water. I called Regina and asked her to meet me at the second to last stop on San Juan Road in an hour. She was at her church and it was Chuseok, the biggest Korean holiday. Needless to say, she had to cut her service short and come out, with Isaac, to pick me up.

I eventually made it to the San Juan stop, used my backpack as a pillow, rested on the only table in the shade, and consulted my topographic map of The National Trail. Soon, Regina called me and said that she was not able to make it out to where I was, due to a barricading of the San Juan Road. The Park Ranger had told her that it's been closed off for a long time now and that I would have to hike back to meet her! It was gonna be another 2 more miles on extremely hot pavement...with NO water! I told Regina. She called about couple minutes later and told me that a passing road biker was on his way to meet me with a 1/2 quart bottle of water! Sure enough, about 5 minutes later a biker approached me and slowed down then asked if my name was Frank. I said "yes" and he said he just talked to my wife and she said that I needed water. He asked if I was gonna be ok and I said yes and thanked him. I checked the time: it was about 12pm. I began the 2 mile hike and got about a mile into it when two more bikers came my way...this time they were women. The first one slowed down and asked if my name was Frank!! I felt like I was an actor in The Twilight Zone. What was an actor in the Twilight Zone supposed to say at this point? Well, I said yes yet again and she asked me if I was gonna be ok! I was beginning to think that the heat had more affect on me than I had realized and that I may have been hallucinating all of this. I called Regina and told her that it was embarassing to be known throughout the South Mountain Park as "the hiker at San Juan with no water" and to please not tell any more bikers about me...and that I'll be there soon.

I took one last picture of myself on the road and walked to freedom...and a whole lot more refreshing water!

There is 1 response: Leave a comment
Flower-child September 16, 2008
Response by regina
Hi, Honey! I thought that you would be dying... I was almost ready to call 911 rescue. Anyway, I'm so glad that you were fine. Thanks a lot for the flower from hiking!!

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