by astrowx (Linda)
“If a body takes out to follow a made trail over the hills, he’d best hold to that trail, for there are not too many ways to go. Most of the trouble a man finds in the mountains is when he tries a shortcut or leaves a known way.” – Tell Sacket in Treasure Mountain by Louis L’Amour.
I am having to dig deep and let go of my pride on this one so that other hiker’s can benefit and learn from my mistakes. So here goes.
My goal was to hike up Siphon Draw Trail in the Superstition Wilderness, and then continue on past “The Basin” to the Flatiron peak (that’s the prominence that looks like the prow of a ship in the center top of the photo above).
This is a classic “ball buster” of a hike. The hike to the Basin alone is a 2-mile stretch with a 1000 foot elevation gain. That hike can then be extended by hiking another mile, but with a 2000 foot elevation gain on an unmaintained trail.
< Tip #1: Remember that “unmaintained” word, and don’t take it lightly.
I am a slow uphill hiker, so I pled for a headstart so I wouldn’t slow down Ric and Channa and risk ruining their day. Lest you think I am a reckless hiker who dashes solo into the uncharted wilderness, fear not. I never intended to be alone on this hike. There were many other hikers nearby on my way up to the Basin. I wasn’t alone in the wilderness until I went beyond that point.
< Tip #2: Keep LEFT after the Basin.
< Tip #3: Pony up the dough to get a real map at the Visitor’s Center. The map above is the free handout flyer, and won’t do much for you.
< Tip #4: Apparently there are some faded splotches marking the real trail on some of the rocks. I never saw them because I was never on the trail and learned about this after the fact.
My 1st Mistake: I went right rather than left after the Basin. I must say that this is fairly easy to do. So many people have made this error that there is a clear trail in this direction.
My Second Mistake: The trail continued to get weaker as I went farther, and there was a lot of scat on the trail…footpath? or animal trail? Who knew? There were a few inukshuks along the way so I decided it was a trail. I was wrong. I should have turned back as soon as the trail became weak.
<Tip #5: Don’t assume a trail is a hiking trail because of the presence of inukshuks (cairns). They may be someone’s way of marking their way back to some semblance of a trail. They may also be an art project.
My 3rd Mistake: I continued around the base of the Flatiron to get a better perpective and wasted precious energy and time. When I decided to retrace my steps I couldn’t recover that little suggestion of a trail.
< Tip #6: If you find yourself on a sketchy trail keep looking back and studying the terrain. How does it look? Will you be able to pick it out going the other way?
< Tip #7: Listen to that little nagging voice in your head telling you that something isn’t right. That’s your brain in deep processing mode. Stop and listen.
That little nagging voice finally got my attention. I stopped and had water and a snack and considered my situation. I could wander around and try to recover the trail in a complex, confusing and treacherous terrain…OR I could head downslope to a ravine and try to get to level ground by nightfall. I chose door #2. My rationale is that at least I was heading for lower ground. There are good arguments on both sides, but I just had to choose – and that was what I was most comfortable with mentally.
Shortly thereafter I came across a shrine to a fallen hiker. The thought crossed my mind that this person might have walked the same path as me, and made the same decisions as me. Perhaps it was just hotter that day.
The hazards going cross-country were abundant. The mountainside was loose talus broken up by ledges and cliffs or avalanche chutes. I. Have. Never. Hiked. So. Slowly.
The avalanche chutes were slopes of loose rocks and boulders a few feet to tens of feet wide. The rocks were easily dislodged during passage. I had a few close calls.
Then there were the Teddy Bear Cholla. At times I had no choice but to pass near them or through a stand of them.
They sound lovely, don’t they? Teddy Bears? Cute and fuzzy?
Although I didn’t take a video of my experience, it was rather similar to the one in this video:
These cursed cacti clone themselves into stands of ten, twenty, thirty, a zillion closely spaced demonic brethren blocking the only sensible paths back to civilization.
By late afternoon I had left the cholla behind for the most part and made it down to the ravine. There were boulders the size of compact cars and a new nasty form of vegetation to deal with named Cat’s Claw Acacia. Aye Chihuahua, enough already.
I made my goal of being on level-ish ground by sunset, and intercepted a park trail before I had to turn on my headlamp. Success! Well, if you measure success by stupidly getting yourself in trouble and then managing to work your way out – then, yeah.
As I made my way along the park trail I saw a rescue helicopter heading up Siphon Draw to the Flatiron. Came to find out later, that a few hikers spent the night up there. I am thankful it wasn’t me.
Here are the things I did right: I had plenty of water/ I kept going through the pain/ I didn’t panic/ I packed prepared to be out all night/ I had my phone to track location and to communicate. I used it sparingly to reserve power.
Here are the things I did wrong: I ignored the fact that there were no other people hiking near me or overtaking me/I assumed inukshucks signified a trail.
Here are my lucky breaks: It was not hot/ There were no rattlesnakes (a corollary of “it was not hot”)/ It was fairly cool (60s)/ It was cloudy/It was dry season (so I could use the ravine).
It was a painful and sobering experience overall, but I learned a lot from this one. Feel free to castigate me freely or share your experiences.