Due to weather threats and a general lack of funds, my friend Mo and I decide to forgo Flagstaff and Humphreys. Instead, we choose to stick closer to home:
So I don't have a topo map for the area, nor have I ever been there. I don't have a hiking book for it, and all I can find are two brief descriptions online that tell me how to access it. Mo and I go for it anyway.
We grab our morning fortification from Xoom Juice, then head out. The directions to the trailhead seem pretty detailed: travel south to Green Valley, get off the highway and go to Elephant Head road, then go 3.6 miles on this road, 1.7 on the next (slightly rougher) dirt road, 2.2 on the (slightly more rougher) dirt road, .4 down the next (even more rougher dirt road) and then 1.2 (almost impassible) dirt road to the trail head.
We can't make the last 1.2, even in Mo's high-clearance four-wheel-drive truck, Betty. Betty does her best, but she just can't make it. Okay, so we add 2.4 miles to the (roughly) 8-mile round-trip, for a total of 10ish miles. Hmm, can I do that on my barely rehabbed knee?
Let's find out.
I realize as we start the hike in that we are two females all alone hiking back into a remote area of national forest that has been seeing increased levels of human smuggling from Mexico and no one knows exactly where we are or when we are due back. This worries me.
I also see large animal prints along the dirt road that I can't identify. This worries me.
I spot small humid clouds starting to form over the mountains already, and I know there are thunderstorm forecasts for the day. This worries me.
Farther along, I start to see spent shell casings littering the dirt road. This really worries me.
Within two miles, we come to a fork in the road that the brief trail description does not identify. We don't know which way to go. We see vehicle and bike tracks on the right fork disappear into a wash that seems to lead away from Elephant Head and then taper out. So we take the left fork. This dead-ends at a creek within a quarter-mile. I play with my Garmin, pressing random buttons to try and figure out where we are and where we need to go.
Okay, back we go. We make marks in the dirt to tell us we already went way and it sucked, then point an arrow down the right fork and off we go into the wash and seemingly tapering off dirt road. But it doesn't taper off and we continue moving farther away from Elephant Head.
While the online description gave detailed instructions on finding the trailhead, it gives precious little insight for the trail itself. The first landmarks it gives are a mill site and a hill with radio towers, neither of which we can find and we continue moving farther away from our destination.
Three-ish miles in, we find the mill site. Whew. We are on the right track. Shortly thereafter, we find the radio towers. A trail branches to the right, up the hill with two big cairns, but I don't think this is where we are supposed to go. I mess with my Garmin again as Mo finds her compass. The printed directions tell us to go easterly, which is away from the trail. So we continue easterly.
This is finally bringing us around towards Elephant Head. But the dirt road is becoming smaller and smaller and the bushes are encroaching. First, it's flowery bushes leaving yellow residue on my legs. Then the acacia cat-claw starts reaching out and tearing at my lower legs. I knew I should have worn pants. I suspected this would be the case. Dang it!
Finally we top out and see Elephant Head....across a major drainage. By major, I mean major. Deep. I can hear the water but I can't see it. And the directions we have tell us to fling ourselves off the road and down the gravelly slope some who-knows-how-many vertical feet down to cross the drainage, and then back up the higher side. And that will only get us to the ridge to get us to the base of the summit!
We head down part way before I realize we've already gone over 5 miles. And if I keep up the hiking on this steep stuff, I could definitely re-injure my knee. And the clouds are getting darker, although we haven't heard any thunder yet. A tough decision needs to be made.
We choose to be prudent and turn around to head back, when we hear the shots. Someone down-canyon is shooting a shotgun. Crap. I sure hope they are gone by the time we reach them. I really don't feel like stumbling upon a) a group of illegal immigrants spending the day shooting shotguns until it's nighttime and they can go on the move again or b) JimBob and his friends shooting up a sign, cans or random women who have the stupidity to walk into their firing range.
We head down the road again, through the thorns and flowers. This really hurts - it's re-scratching the scratches I already have! We play alphabet games and talk about things we've never done that we want to. We keep up a good pace and it gets hot. My Garmin starts beeping at me to tell me that a turn is approaching each time we approach a turn. I'm puzzled. How does it know? It's never done this to me before.
I realize I must have pushed a "mark route" button or something when I fooled around with the buttons early on. This is fun - it is telling me we are on track, and tells me how many miles to go and how much time that will take.
I am hot and fried and glad that we haven't run into JimBob or anyone else. Finally, we make it to the car, 4.5 hours after we started. Whew!
I decide that even though it was tough, scary, scratchy and maybe planned out in too much of a haphazard way, I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the hike. We manage to get ourselves lost on our drive out, but quickly get back on track and back to Tucson.
Bonus: I am reassured that I still have my cardiovascular base level from earlier this year. Even though my knee twinged a bit, I didn't have a problem with this hike. Yay!
Update: 10.2 miles and 3000 ft of climbing. My knee is sore but not hurting today. My glutes are the most sore, and my arm from a wipeout I had coming down (landed on my right hip/arm).