A Worthwhile Challenge
~Tuesday, January 18, 2022~
Finally, it was time to venture out to see up close and personal, what this place has to offer. Boulders…..lots of boulders. The Siphon Draw/Flat Iron Trail offered the hardest hike of our 19-month journey, by far. Around 5:00 a.m. when the rain decided to come down, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to see this hike through today. Thankfully, the rain was short-lived, so we decided to move forward with our plans. I was a bit reluctant to do this advanced hike, thinking it was a bit too much coming off of my sickness and having had no cardio for over 2 weeks. What I came to find out though, is it wasn’t the cardio that should have been my concern, but the strength in my legs/arms. I just didn’t have my normal energy to tackle this sort of climb. If it had been a normal dirt trail to the top, it would have been fine. But it was only that for the first ¼ mile where we shared the trail with several horses and their riders before they took a different route on the Jacob’s Crosscut Trail.
We would have brought Sadie had our plans been to only hike the 1.5 miles,(1,000 foot elevation gain) to the basin of the Siphon Draw Trail. But even that would have been hard on her paws. However, since we had plans to continue on to the more strenuous boulder climbing Flat Iron portion, that would nix any plans in bringing our furry friend. There’s no way Sadie could have done it.
As you approach the basin, you can just imagine the rush of rain that comes through here (thus the Siphon Draw name) during a monsoon.
Unfortunately, many are not lucky enough to witness this as it’s advised not to hike this trail during that time due to extreme high temperatures. Once you head out of the smooth terrain in the basin, you’re met with grapefruit-sized rock under your feet to complete boulder climbing. This is where the definitive trail ends as you’re basically thrust into figuring the Flat Iron route on your own. At this point, we questioned several times which way was best and sought comfort seeing fellow hikers taking the same route as we all had plans to make it to the top. Great minds think alike? There were also a few barely noticeable spray-painted markings on boulders to help guide the way. A little more reliable than a basic shoe print. I must say it was very cool seeing the canyon and mountains up close and personal. You gain a totally different perspective than you do from a distance.
The recommendation is to allow 5-6 hours for the entire hike, which in the end took us about 8. We thought the hike down would be a fraction of the climb up, but were WE wrong. It would have been nice to take in the spectacular views a bit longer. It was so beautiful to see the sprawling views of Arizona’s lower desert below us. And just when you thought you’d seen all the mountains there were to see, there was a whole other layer of peaks behind those, only visible from the top.
After our celebratory 30 minutes at the top, high-fiving other hikers and exchanging photo ops, it was time to come down.
We honestly thought we had plenty of time to get down the mountain since descending usually takes us ½ of what it does to get up. A few of us stuck together, with a matched pace. It was nice to be in a larger group and collectively work together in deciding which way was best in our descent. About 2 hours down, somehow we got separated. Shortly after, we had taken a wrong turn and sunset quickly turned into night. But even with headlamps, it was still a challenge since we weren’t yet out of the canyon. But the rule is, if you feel like you’re lost, always take the deepest “V” of the canyon to get you out. It may not be easy, but it’s a sure way not to get you back on track. We also made a decision to pull out the hiking poles too early. Hiking poles are not your friend when you’re climbing over boulders. They’re only a hindrance.
As we hiked by the light of the moon and our headlamps (I actually like hiking in the dark, but not in the 8th hour), the experience brought back a flood of memories of our final descent from Mt. Whitney to Whitney Portal on our JMT (John Muir Trail) hike back in 2017. I had an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and depleted energy that nearly brought me to tears. Though the 200+ miles was no comparison to this, the feeling at the end was the same. Tonight, as we made our way out of the canyon, we still had a mile to go to the campground. We ran into a young man, enjoying his moon and stargazing along the trail and asked him if we were on the right path to the campground. “Yes! You’re good!” , he replied as I gave out a sigh of relief. With today’s quest, we were prepared with everything……..clothing, water, food and light; just not time. My legs were like jelly, my lips parched. As we arrived at our campsite, we looked towards the path we just came down and saw one headlamp in the distance (likely our stargazing friend). Though exhausted, we were elated that we had done it. Looking up at Flat Iron point from our trailer gave us an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Instead of the 6.1 mile round-trip hike (2,700 foot elevation gain) that it was, it felt double that. All in all, it was a great hike, but the pace on our descent was just too slow. I think the combination of being tired and not having my full strength, left me extra cautious on the way down. At least we met our 2 goals for the day…..getting to the summit, and getting down unscathed.
Our celebratory thoughts from earlier in the day became virtually non-existent by the time we got back to our campsite. No margaritas, no hearty dinner. The truth is, all we wanted to do was take a hot shower, eat a little soup, relax our tired muscles and hit the hay.