It’s funny how a day can start out so pleasant and laid back, and then turn into one of the most grueling days yet. As Gizmo remarked, this is probably a taste of what’s to come from the Mazatzals as we begin to hike from the Basin and Range terrain into the transitional terrain.
The day started out chilly on top of Reavis Pass. Myself, Gizmo and Dirt Nap each took our time in adjusting to the cold before the sun crested the high hills to our east, prompting me to get moving once and for all.
The hiking was calm, smooth, and incredibly relaxing. Tall ponderosa pines welcomed me back to the higher elevations through their signature aromas. Healthy creeks rolled over rocks alongside the trail, providing ample water for the ample campsites taking advantage of every flat spot below a tree. Large grassy meadows revealed not rugged and impressive mountains, but tall carpeted mountains that make you feel secluded and far away from where you think you are. Soon the trail crossed paths with an extraordinarily large juniper tree, easily the largest I’ve ever seen. The diameter of the trunk alone must have been at least a dozen feet wide. Such a grand majestic tree has surely seen the times change from when natives practiced rituals nearby, to prospectors scouring the mountains for gold, to its current state of relative safety in a designated Wilderness area.
I stopped shortly thereafter to get some water. After getting what I needed, I noticed a pretty little bird just up the creek bouncing from one branch to the next. It was small, like a tanager, but was distinctly black and white on its back with a strong bold red on its chest. It was very striking, so I moved in closer to try to see if he would let me get a shot. With a bit of quiet stalking, I was able to fire off a couple of decent shots of him. Satisfied, I put on my pack and was about to head off when a pair of whitetail deer walked just ten yards in front of me, completely indifferent to my presence. They went down to the creek, took a couple of sips, then disappeared into the brush. Emotionally, this felt like the best morning yet.
As I began the hike up to the Reavis Gap, I began to encounter more hikers enjoying the area. An older couple, the man interested in the AZT, the woman more interested in moving on. Two other girls out with their dogs. Another pair of girls that were eager to talk, and very enjoyable to talk with. Elizabeth was taking her friend Mimi out backpacking for the first time before she went off to med school in New York. Elizabeth seemed to love the idea of thru-hiking, but sounded glued to her job too much to give it a go. We parted ways and I headed up the trail, but they weren’t far behind.
Farther in, the landmark Four Peaks came into view on my way down to Walnut Spring, the last reliable water source for a while. I found Gizmo and Dirt Nap eating lunch there, which is exactly what I had intended to do as well. During our meal, Elizabeth and Mimi also caught up with us and joined us. I eventually filtered more water and began back down the trail, leaving them behind in the inviting shade. Then the day took a strenuous turn.
The trail quickly turned upward, covered in loose rocks, making the climbing slow going. At the top, the trail took the quickest way down a steep canyon. Elevation dropped quickly, making the trail often tricky to maneuver due to its sharp vertical angle, the Four Peaks never out of sight for very long, taunting of things to come for sure. Once finally down at the bottom, the trail crossed the bottom of the canyon, and then proceeded up a near mirror reflection of the trail I had just scrambled down. One grueling step after another seemed to make little difference in gaining elevation, but I kept at it. Soon the canyon bottom was far below and the top of a ridge seemed within reach. Assuming the worst was over, I crested the ridge and relaxed in some shade.
I followed the trail along a ridge where it seemed much more obscure and overgrown than in previous areas. My hiking poles were consistently either getting stuck, or just in the way. Once on top though, the views were phenomenal. On one side was a dramatic view of canyons folding into each other in the afternoon light. On the other, a vastly wide valley stretching across to the Sierra Anche Mountains, glowing in warm light. Had there been a halfway decent place to camp, I would have called it a day there. Alas, it was all way too rocky, so I pressed onward as the trail dipped into a small canyon, fortunately at a more relaxed pace this time. I noticed an excellent campsite tucked away in the trees. Though perfect for setting up a tent, it would have been terrible for photography. I decided to hydrate there anyway to take a break. Gizmo and Dirt Nap caught up with me, and Gizmo fairly easily convinced me to check out the high point just a mile up the trail. Worst case scenario, there was a trailhead another mile after that if a campsite was hard to find.
I headed up the trail shortly before them and began yet another steep and strenuous climb up to the top of a ridge. Distant mountains to the southeast opened up as evening light hit them dozens of miles away, but there was no campsite. The trail luckily turned eastward and began a relaxing descent toward the upcoming trailhead. Just above, open views of the Sierra Anche Mountains stretched out as a green pasture, ready for camping appeared below. Earth’s shadow began rising over the mountains as the last light of the day struck the highest peaks, far away on the eastern horizon. We had found a great campsite. We all had our dinners and after enjoying a great night sky, packed it all in for the day.