This day was a day filled with mixed emotions and experiences. I started off acknowledging a lot of the worry that had been following me onto the trail, and made an intent to release them. While feeling lighter and better about the day early on, I came out of the small desert mountains beyond the ranch, where the trail opened up into a large valley between Saguaro National Park and myself. I also ran into Hemlock who was heading south, someone I had been chatting with before each of us started the trail. We had a nice conversation before we continued in our respective directions.
It was mostly flat and easygoing for the next several miles. Chipmunks, butterflies, and cottontail rabbits all fled the trail in front of me through the wildflowers and cactus. I soon rounded a corner and came upon a snake lying in the middle of the trail. I’m not very familiar with snakes, so although this one seemed non-threatening, I still threw a few rocks in its direction to see if it would voluntarily move. Without much success, I noticed I could pretty easily bushwhack around it, so I did so quietly and carefully while giving it plenty of room. One crisis averted, but more were soon to follow.
I continued down the trail enjoying its easy and gradual descent toward Saguaro National Park when I heard the sound that I most fear hearing in the desert: a rattler on a rattlesnake. Fortunately, this one was behind me a couple of dozen feet, so a safe distance, but still alarming. Two crises averted.
With the rattlesnake rattling around in my mind, I hadn’t even gone a mile before I heard the same sound again, but this time directly ahead of me about 10 feet. My plan to alarm them with extra heavy hammering of my hiking poles into the ground seemed to work. I backed up to give it some room, and it slowly uncoiled and casually slithered off the trail. Three crises averted, but I wasn’t done yet.
I reached Rincon Creek which was flowing nicely, and knowing that this was the last certain water source, I had some lunch and stocked up on water, forgetting that Hemlock had told me that there was plenty up Mica Mountain, where I was heading in Saguaro National Park. I crossed into the park boundary and just as quickly as the scenery became mesmerizing, the trail began to climb. Wildflowers exploded between a dense saguaro forest as the trail began a grueling ascent up the south side of Mica Mountain.
A few hours had gone by under the hot sun when I noticed I was needing some water. I didn’t want to stop because there were swarms of gnats that would instantly cling to any exposed skin, in this case mainly my face, as soon as I stood still. Regardless, I was getting dehydrated and needed to put a big dent in my water supply. I found a single, armless saguaro along the trail which provided just enough shade for me to stand in, and I dropped an electrolyte tablet into a liter of water and chugged it. I felt a lot better, but the trail was far from being done climbing and my water was getting low.
I hadn’t seen an AZT or park sign in a long time and I was beginning to wonder if I had missed a fork in my slightly dehydrated state. With the relentless sun bearing down and water running low, I decided I needed to figure out where I was. I saw a nice shady spot a short distance ahead and decided that that would do. As I approached, I noticed in the shadows a sign! I eagerly went to read it and discovered that I was actually still on the right trail. And better yet, camp was less than three miles away! Even better, just a short distance up the trail I found more water! I stopped to get a couple of liters before the gnats made the job nearly impossible. Four crises averted.
Feeling refreshed and reassured, I was now making much better time up the steep trail. I pulled out my phone to take a quick picture, but now noticed that my USB cable that I was using to charge the phone had broken due to the plug bending. I killed every process except the tracker I was using and left it in airplane mode and hoped it would at least make it to camp.
Soon enough, the trail brought me to the Grass Shack Campground where a creek was generously flowing next to it. Despite getting my permit, the campground was already occupied and was about to be more so. A guy sitting with a few teenage girls informed me about 12 more were on the way. He said it might be a noisy evening, but wouldn’t last long into the night. Good enough. Not quite a crisis to avert, but another one was coming.
I headed to the back of the campground where I thought my site was supposed to be and set up my tent. Once inside to escape the gnats, I heard a very loud fly seeming to patrol my tent. I didn’t think much of it since I was desperately hungry. As I began to devour dinner (in my tent), I also took out my USB cable to see if I could crack it open to fix it back into place. A few moments later and it was charging my phone again! Five crises averted!
The bugs had died down by now and so I poked my head out the tent to notice an amazing sunset going on outside. I jumped out to do a few quick shots and then went back a bit beyond my tent to make a bathroom break. I went back by my tent and stood watching the sky when I noticed the fly buzzing nearby again. This was no fly though. I had apparently camped too close to a large hornet and it was clearly upset. Not being completely familiar with hornet behavior, I stood back as it hovered on the other side of my tent facing me, clearly guarding something. I thought I was giving it enough room but it made a pass around the tent, prompting me to back up a bit more. It wasn’t enough though. It came after me as I ran back toward the main campsite and took a swipe near my head, fortunately missing. I was nearly back to the larger group of campers, the rest of them having arrived by this time when I noticed I wasn’t being pursued anymore. I was very tempted to ask the group leader for some help moving my tent, but realized he’d be in the same danger as me. I stood there debating what to do for a little while when I realized that if they saw me, they might assume I was standing there for a different reason. I headed back up to my site solo, slowly and patiently to see if the hornet was still out. With my adrenaline still going, I eased in toward my tent, but no sounds. I opened it up to grab some of the heavier items and brought them down the small hill. One trip down. I went back up, grabbed my camera on its tripod, and brought it down. I was calmer, but the next step had me on edge. I pulled up one stake from the tent, and with five to go, began to make my way around the tent to get the rest, hoping the hornet wouldn’t be alarmed. One by one I pulled them up, and just as the tent began to fall after pulling up the last stake, I caught it to avoid any surprises. I quickly lifted it by the rod and carried it down. Finally my two hiking poles remained resting against a blooming manzanita tree that the hornet seemed to be guarding. No point in hanging around. I made a quick dash in, grabbed them, and ran back down. No pursuers. Six crises averted.
After all that, it was finally time to rehydrate, set up bed, and get in a few token night shots before sleeping the day off.