Friday, April 10, 2015

Did an off-trail hike this morning with Marty, my hiking buddy. We had originally planned on starting out from the La Luz Trail Head and then hiking up the north ridge of Chimney Canyon, then crossover and hike down the south ridge of Waterfall Canyon to the South Piedra Lisa Trail. However, once we got to the trail head, we decided that might be a bit much for our first off-trail experience, so we decided to do something a little shorter just to get our feet wet.

From the La Luz Trail Head, we took the spur trail that connects the La Luz Trail Head to the South Piedra Lisa Trail Head. A short way out on the spur, we started poking around looking for a place to start climbing. Since this was an exploratory hike, nothing was set in stone, so once we were on our way up, we just followed what trails we could find, or followed drainage channels, and let our instincts, along with the GPS, topo map, and visual references, help us decide which way to go. And there were a few trails on the climb up, but we couldn’t determine whether they were made by hikers or wildlife.

The climb up was 900 feet over one mile at an average grade of 17%; however, some of the climbing was at grades of 25%. It was virtually straight up to the high point with a LOT of scree. There was no rock scrambling, but we did have to do a little bushwhacking. Not much, though, as the overgrowth was minimal, although an occasional goring by a rogue branch served as a reminder that we we were hiking off trail and needed to pay attention. And as you might expect, the cholla cactus was brutal and we had to stop a number of times to remove their miniature harpoons. And how one of those little harpoons got down between my pack and my back is beyond me! πŸ™‚

I usually don’t use my trekking poles because it is very difficult to deal with poles and a full-size DSLR camera hanging around my neck. However, with all the scree and the steep grades, I had no choice and was forced to work a trekking pole with my left hand to help maintain balance, while I worked, and protected, the camera with my right hand. As you might expect, the camera thing served as a major distraction and in a situation more dangerous than this hike, that distraction could get me hurt. I am now thinking it might be safer to use a POV video camera strapped to my head so I can focus on where I am putting my hands and feet, as opposed to being focused on taking pictures and protecting my camera from rocks and branches. I’m going to have to give this some serious thought.

On the way down, we followed drainage channels while checking the GPS occasionally to make certain we weren’t getting off course. Had a compass with me but didn’t really need to use it. We did find and follow some small rock cairns other hikers had left to show the way down to the Waterfall Trail, so those were helpful. When we merged with the Waterfall Trail, there was a sign warning us the area north was closed from March 1 to August 1 but, apparently, the Waterfall Trail is not affected by that closure.

All in all, it was a very rewarding experience and we enjoyed every minute of our first off-trail adventure. And some of the areas we passed through on the way down were open, shaded and peaceful, with some magnificent views. Now that we’ve gotten our feet wet with off-trail hiking, we are both anxious to do it again.

If you look closely at the pics on our climb up, you can see the parking lot of the La Luz Trail Head in the far background (specifically, #1926 and #1963) to give you a feel for how high up we were. You might have to scroll down and click on the full-size pic at the bottom-right to get a better view.

From the trail head, elevation gain was around 1,000 feet, but total climbing was almost 1,300 feet. Total distance covered on this trip was 3.6 miles and it took us 3.5 hours to complete the loop, including stops, of which there were many. So, yeah, an overall average of only one MPH is not very fast, but, then again, we weren’t in a hurry. That’s one of the advantages of age: gaining the wisdom to slow down and enjoy the moment. And if that moment happens in the wilderness, that moment becomes an extremely special moment to enjoy! πŸ˜‰

Click Here for the topo map with the trail route, then click on the individual icons for trail notes and pics. If the icon info comes up empty, try reloading the map.

Topo Map / Trail Route

Topo Map / Trail Route

Elevation Profile for this Hike

Elevation Profile for this Hike

Click the first pic to start the manual slide show: