The Definitive Answer to the Age Old Question… Does a Bear Sh*t in the Woods?
The confirmation is a resounding YES! How do we know? Well, to spare you the sordid details and graphic photos, let’s simply say that Dave stepped in it! Avoidance was bear-ly a possibility because of the widespread nature of the umm, evidence. Happy Valley campground in the Rincon Mountain range (http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coronado/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=25596&actid=64), Southern AZ is apparently quite the haven for Black bears, and the manzanita bushes that are in abundance are currently providing a bountiful crop of tasty berries. Bears+berries+Dave’s left foot=proof!
This was far from just a sh*tty backpacking adventure however, and our weekend at Happy Valley campground and ascent of Rincon Peak were magnificent. The trailhead is about 60 miles from our home and as we were leaving Tucson, Dave suddenly swerved sharply, hit the brakes, and pulled over to the shoulder. Just as rapidly, he whipped back out onto the road into the direction from which we just came and was asking me, “Did you see that?” I didn’t have time to reply when he flipped another U-turn and pulled off to the side of the roadway. “It’s a Gila Monster”, he exclaimed as he grabbed the camera and leapt from the car. Urgently I followed, anxious to finally see one of these unique creatures. Though they are well-known, the Gila Monsters are not often seen and even David only sees one a year, on average, which is remarkable given the amount of time that he spends out in the desert. Gorgeous, poisonous, and slow-moving, the reptile was making its way across the pavement. David and I proceeded to plant ourselves in the lane, detouring several cars and a bicyclist until the lizard had time to reach the shoulder safely. It did not seem impressed that we wanted to take photos and kept opening its powerful jaw and waving its black tongue in warning. We kept a respectful distance because we did not want to traumatize it any further, and because they really are dangerous little fellows in spite of the fact that it looked a bit like a hissing newborn kitten.
Lizard crossing accomplished, we resumed our journey. Rincon Peak is a rocky protrusion that tops out at 8482 feet and is about an eight mile trek up from the trailhead. We spent our nights at Happy Valley, a campground which lies slightly over halfway. David and I were enthused to be on the inaugural evening of our new Big Agnes, Fly Creek UL2 (UL2) tent. It is noticeably lighter than the Mountain Hardwear EV3 (EV3) tent that we usually carry (okay, Dave carries!), but it is also considerably smaller (cozier) as well since it is constructed for two people instead of three, like the EV3 to which we have grown accustomed. The new structure permits us little room for both our backpacks, my smaller pack found an overnight home inside the UL2 while Dave’s nestled into the available bear-resistant food storage locker along with our food. It would have fit in the spacious vestibule, however, but with the two days of intermittent rain we decided to take full advantage of the dry locker. Overall, the UL2 was a wise purchase, even if it did involve a few moments of Twister as we changed and slid into our sleeping bags. I think we both really hoped and expected that we would get a glimpse of a bear, given all the evidence of their presence, but we did not get the opportunity.
The Rincon Peak trail winds through pine forest for the majority of the second half, and the scent of the trees, the pine-needle carpet, the calls of frolicking crows, and the softness of the ground beneath us made indelible impressions on our senses. This trek was a refreshing change as we frequently travel in more open areas, rocky, and without the stands of pine and juniper, crunching on gravel and sand, deprived of the insulation of the forest. Approaching the upper reaches of Rincon Peak, the challenging and precarious trail begins a series of switchbacks and grows incredibly steep, transforming into an exciting ~40% grade testing both our endurance and desire. With sincere determination and willpower David steadfastly climbed, balancing his 45 pound backpack, hiking nimbly towards the summit (I stashed my 25 pound backpack along the way). His physical feat meant that not only did he have an intense perspiring workout, but that we were able to enjoy a delicious lunch and hot, energizing tea on the peak while admiring the 360 degree view from the summit!
The trip back down was cautious due to the extreme slope but the peekaboo views through the pines along the trail gave David a chance to take some wonderful shots of the scenery. Arriving back at camp, we had a scrumptious and nutritious Wild Drake rehydrated meal, followed by our DescenTea™, which we imbibed beside our toasty campfire. The tea worked wonders and we both slept well and awoke rested and refreshed.
After drying gear from a short period of overnight rainfall and condensation, we meandered our way back down the scenic Miller Creek trail, reluctant to leave Happy Valley and end our Rincon adventure.
We began with a question and we culminate with one. Where will we go to reach our summit next weekend?
Reach Your Summit!