A Beautiful, Fucking Disaster

Last year wasn’t easy.  It was challenging, painful and presented more uphill battles than I was ready for. There were times I wasn’t sure how I could possibly keep going.  However, there were also many moments of overwhelming love, beauty, hope and sheer joy.  Life is amazing like that.  Also hiking – hiking is amazing like that.  And my final hike of 2018 really encompassed all this past year represents to me.

Hiking the Superstition Ridgeline was a beautiful, fucking disaster.  And I wouldn’t change that day for the world.

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The hike is just under 12 miles, and gains over 4K ft in elevation.  Our day began before dark, meeting at the Carney Springs TH.  From there we shuttled to Lost Dutchman State Park, where our hike would begin.  The moment we stepped out of the car we were welcomed with icy gusts of wind.  We all stopped to look at each other, before agreeing that today is still the day to tackle this hike.  So we began our journey.  5 humans and one incredible 10lb dog.

Our approach began by hiking the Siphon Draw Trail up to Flat Iron.  We knew this would be one of the most difficult portions of the hike (also, the only portion that all of us had previously completed).  The cold air burned our lungs, but the canyon provided shelter from the wind.  After 2 hours, we made it to the top – Laura and I pulling up the rear, while the others were keeping pace with the Flash.

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Our relief of reaching the first summit was interrupted by the piercing wind and freezing temperatures.  But the views are always worth that climb, and the weather.  We layered back up, looking like we were hiking through the tundra as opposed to our beloved desert.  Sub-freezing temps have that affect on desert dwellers.

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Once we caught our breath and felt sufficiently layered, we began our trek along the ridgeline.  It started out mild, weaving in out of the many peaks atop the Superstitions.  We were surrounded by Prickly Pear, Yucca and sweeping views.  Around each turn, at least one of us would exclaim how incredible the views were.  Breathtaking, honestly.

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As our journey continued, the wind sustained, the temps felt to be dropping and the clouds were drawing nearer and nearer.  We ogled about how they appeared to be sinking from the sky.  We could see the storm in the distance, over Four Peaks and moving closer.  We trekked on for a couple more hours before finding a reprieve from the wind, along a hillside.  We stopped for a quick lunch, worried that we wouldn’t find another spot without wind, before the possible rain began.  Even Quinci appreciated this break – mostly because it meant she got to eat a fair share of my Tofurkey Sandwich!  Raptors need to refuel from time to time too.

After lunch, things began to get a bit tougher and even more beautiful.  It’s hard to believe, even now, that the hike could get more stunning with every step.  We hiked over many more peaks, thighs and calves burning with each step.  There were cuss words said – but more importantly, there were ALWAYS words of encouragement said between the 5 of us.  We never once doubted each others ability to accomplish every single step of this journey.

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The final peak, Peak 5057, was  a kicker.  The trail dropped down, before climbing back up to within .1 miles of the summit.  We clawed our way up, stopping for breathers (and photos) every so often.  There were a few, fun hand over feet portions that we got to boulder up.  Reaching one of the higher points on the trail felt like such a success.  We could do this!

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Shortly after we began our descent from that summit, a miracle happened. Snow. In the desert.  It started as just flakes falling few and far between.  Even that caused us to squeal with joy.  Then it legitimately began to snow.  Really snow.  This was the moment that 5 adults turned in to 5yr old kids.  Running around squealing, maybe crying, trying to catch snowflakes on our tongue and dancing – because it was snowing, in our beloved desert, 4k ft above the valley floor.  After some time spent attempting to capture photos of the brilliantly unique snowflakes and the storm overtaking us, we decided to hike on – we still had a long ways to go.  Our giddiness didn’t end, the snow began sticking.  It was magic, pure magic.  A moment I will NEVER forget.  Just writing this, I can feel my heart bursting with the emotions of that moment.

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As we hiked on, we remained in awe of the snow landing on the Century Plants, Yucca, Prickly Pear and boulders.  The trail from this point on was almost all a descent, at a steep rapid pace.  The snow quickly turned in to rain….. that lasted for the next 4 miles.  The “passing shower” we had expected turned out to be quite a bit more brutal.  Our visibility was greatly decreased and each step was slick and dangerous.  Once we found the TH leading down Carney Springs we knew we were on the final descent.  This descent took much longer than it typically would, since the trail had turned into more of a waterfall, a very steep waterfall.  But despite the fact that we spent every step soaked to the bone, knees creaking, fingers numb and gear weighing twice as much all filled with water – we remained positive, for the most part.  Of course there were moments of frustration and pain – where we couldn’t feel our frozen faces or fingers, where we couldn’t tell if our faces were smiling or crying. But there was also determination, teamwork and laughter.  I am not sure how I got so lucky to be on this journey with people who’s spirits couldn’t be broken, and with a dog who repeatedly beats the odds.   These friends made the day truly incredible.  Thank you Jessi, Brie, Jacob and Laura for joining me on this unforgettable “Sufferfest”.

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Moral of the story being – despite sometimes being in brutal conditions, when it’s difficult to see which way is out – there is still always a way out.  For all of the challenges, there are moments where life is at it’s absolute best.  It’s about balance, and being able to appreciate the lessons we learn from the times we wish we weren’t having to endure.  Life is a beautiful, fucking disaster!

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Note: I would NOT recommend this hike for dogs.  Quinci is a unique creature with insane athletic ability, calloused paw pads that can handle the desert terrain, is small enough to pick her up in sections that are too high for dogs to boulder and she knows how to appropriately conserve her energy.

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