Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Arizona Tour - Miller Peak

After leaving Wrightson Peak, I had a 3 hour drive to the Miller Peak (9,466') area.  Before leaving for Arizona, the long term forecast called for about 36 hours of crappy weather, and the local weather reports confirmed this.  A cold front was coming through, bringing sustained winds of 30 mph with gusts up to 50...and temperatures in the mid to high 30s in the towns - meaning it would be worse up in the mountains.

The weather was still good, and I stopped in the town of Sierra Vista, AZ to get Claritin and sunscreen.  I also stopped at a forest ranger station to look for campsites, where I encountered the Huachuca Hash House Harriers preparing for a run.  These Harrier clubs are located all over the U.S., and combine the mutually beneficial endeavors of running and drinking - with a healthy dose of vulgarity thrown in for good measure.  I was glad to know I wasn't the only nut out and about in southeastern Arizona.

As I drove towards the trailhead in the Coronado National Monument - just a couple miles north of the Mexican border - I saw lots of signs warning of smuggling and illegal immigration.  Not to worry, I had expected this and spoken with a few area hikers that gave me pointers on how to deal with the situation should I encounter it.

Smuggling is common in this area, so if you're looking for a career change...
The paved road soon turned to gravel, and after a few miles I was at the trailhead - seeing one of about 50 border patrol trucks I would see during my trip.  No place to camp, so I headed for an established campground (Parker Canyon Lake) a mere 23 miles further along the unpaved road - this took awhile moving at 25 mph.  My dumb ass later found that a completely paved road also leads to this campground, but why do things the easy way?  By the time I arrived, it was dark, the wind had picked up, and about 20 other groups were camping out.  Exhausted from the Wrightson hike and drive, I put up the tent and slept the sleep of the dead at 10pm.

The next morning, I woke up at 6am to find I camped at a beautiful spot, but it was time to move on.  I scarfed down a Clif Bar, took down the tent as I cursed the wind and drove the 40 minutes back to the Miller Peak Trailhead at Montezuma Pass (6,575').  It was in the low 30s with a brutal wind, so I took my time getting ready.  I loaded up on clothes and started on the trail towards the Miller Peak summit (signed as 5.3 miles away).  Luckily, this trail started on the leeward side of the ridge, so I was protected from the wind initally and was able to generate some warmth.  After a bit more than a mile I came across the first of three adits - old entrances to mineshafts.  I approached the first one slowly, as I had been informed these sometimes serve as makeshift camps for border crossers, but nobody was around.  I wanted to inspect a bit more, but the entrance was sealed, as was the case in the next adits.  So I settled for a photo.

Sealed entrance to an abandoned mine on Miller Peak
I continued upward, and got my first view of Miller Peak.  In contrast to the reddish green area I was in, the top was getting pelted with ice and snow and looked cold and grey.

Miller Peak
At this point I also saw a couple small patches of gorgeous purple wildflowers, stubbornly holding their ground in a cold, burned out area.

I know what you're thinking, but no, dumbass, this isn't Lupinus arizonicus.  It's Lupinus sparsifloris.  I can't take you anywhere.

This gave me a bit of a spring in my step...until the trail crossed the ridge into the full teeth of the wind.  It was a different world here, a very cold wind contorting the trees and further insulting them by covering them in rime ice.  I snapped a couple quick photos here, but I started freezing and decided to put the camera in the backpack for the rest of the hike.

Rime ice on some old burned trees
I moved quickly, continuing to ascend into worse conditions.  The snow started accumulating, and I was getting pelted by little hard balls of ice - part snow, part hail.  I covered my face as best I could and continued on to the summit, touched the highest point and hauled ass back to where the trail was on the leeward side.  After that it was a leisurely stroll.  The way down always seems to take twice as long.

Would have loved a zip line down to the car here

Once back at the trailhead I snapped some photos and did a quick hike up to Coronado Peak, where there was a lot of cool information about Coronado's expeditions in the area in the 1500s looking for the seven cities of gold.

View from Montezuma Pass - 6,575'.  You can see the brown border fence cutting diagonally across the middle of the picture. 

Summary stats for April 14:  11.0 miles, 3440' elevation gain, 5 hours 15 minutes

It was then time for another 3 hour drive to Chiricahua peak.  I had no problems on the roads, and was hoping to arrive at camp before dark (which arrives early at 7pm).  I didn't quite make it.  Darkness had just fallen when I made it to the dirt road that led 9 miles into the Upper Mormon Creek Trailhead (Iocated at the Sycamore campground).  The road at first appeared fantastic, wide and level, but the storm that hit me at Miller Peak had also hit here, and as I gained altitude the road started to get a bit muddy in places.  Still no problems until mile 6, where the road was flooded.  Damn.  I didn't want to drive through the water in the dark, so decided to pursue an alternative approach to the Rustler's Creek campground.  However, after four miles of 14 on a dirt road I started seeing a lot of snow left over from the storm.  By this point I was tired, so I pulled off to the side of the road and went dirtbag for a second night, sleeping in the back of the Crown Vic.

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