Back before our Super Ultra-Light rigs, I scraped up a $250 budget for a rig that was approaching an Ultra-light (UL) rig. We both had to deal with uncertainty. We hadn’t been backpacking in decades. We had to try this idea out. This was how we first tested out the gear, working out the glitches and testing our bodies with the weight.
February 23rd, 2014
This warm weather we have been having just breaks all deals. We have decided to try out the new Ultra-light gear, IN FEBRUARY! Camping in February just isn’t done, but this year…80F down in the valley….
It was a spur of the moment decision. DF said that she wanted to do something that she had never done. Backpacking is something that we both left behind decades ago. Sycamore Reservoir was just discovered last week, by me, with a website and a map.
I spent Friday getting ready. Making up the dehydrated food was interesting. There had to be a little truer experimenting to nail it down. I tried a quick rehydrate and some herbs. I had to just speculate on the adjustments and amounts of this and that, and then pack it up. That evening, we got out the cook stove and water filtering equipment, making sure that they worked. We ran through a checklist of our collection. DF had borrowed a friend’s backpack at the last minute and put together some wardrobe. We hadn’t planned on doing this for a couple of more months.
We are heading into the high grassland’s canyons, which are off of the Mount Lemmon highway.
The upside is that although there were a few snakes reported in the fairways of the Tucson Open golf tournament over the hill from my place, there would be a very slight chance of encountering a confused rattler in the grass at this time of year at this higher elevation.
We have no idea what our tolerances or capabilities will be when carrying backpacks. We want to take it cautiously, not taking on too much. I have only carried my pack a mile through the neighborhood up and down a steep hill. This trail would be a 4×4 trail for 1.25 miles up hill and then downhill for two miles to the water and riparian areas. That should be a good breaking in.
Here is a very good source of information on the hike:
The Test Begins:
I have a couple of necessities to take care of Saturday morning, so we don’t arrive at the trailhead until around 11:00am. Like a sudden storm, disappointment crashes down on us. The parking lot is full and the 4×4 road is closed. The forest service has misinformed me and an extra 2 ½ miles is now added to the trek. This all probably means no nudity and possibly too much hiking for a first trek.
We go back and forth, thinking of going someplace else. We just want this to be a good test. Eventually it is decided that we could try out our backpacking endurance and just see how this trail will work out. It is really too late to go someplace else. I borrow a pair of light sweat pants from DF and we take off.
The first part of the hike is easy, as I walk angry on the track that I thought I was to be driving on. Then, when I see the climb to the saddle, I laugh. It is nothing. There is an obvious couch potato guy hobbling back down bull-legged from a sore body. He stops to light a cigarette. “If he can, then I can,” I confidently say out loud to DF.
We arrive at the saddle and are treated to a very fine vista, as we rest and have water. There are just too many people for my taste and even a half dozen on horseback. Most people seem to be coming up the low road.
So, we take the high road. We see no one that way, but we can’t be assured enough to hike nude freely, or comfortably.
It is downhill. Old pieces of the defunct water pipe stone foundation are seen along the trail like a series of cairns.
We arrive at the bottom, where the dam is. It had been constructed for a water source for a prison camp in the nineteen thirties. The prisoners had constructed the Mt. Lemon Highway a two lane road to the top of this range. There had also been a number of Japanese-American internment prisoners here during WWII. The Trailhead and that campsite are now named after one of the Japanese victims of government excess. The dam had created had a two acre lake back then. Since those early times, it has been filled completely with rock and sand, which washed down from up stream. This has created this lovely habitat with large trees and other riparian delights.
We come across a man and woman with four small children. All are in florescent t-shirts sitting on the low concrete wall of the dam. They all have backpacks. She sees our backpacks and asks us where we will camp. Of course, I don’t really know. She then describes to us a campsite that they had used the night before, about a half mile further up the trail with a water source nearby.
He tells us that he had had a layer of ice across his water bottle that morning to greet him. There is no going back. We are locked in. This could be a cold one and a real test for the new equipment.
The water is looking really ugly there at the dam, but she says that they had filtered the water near that campsite and done just fine drinking it. My feet are beginning to hurt. I don’t want to stop and then get myself back in gear again, so we decide to trek on.
Upstream, we soon find a tributary where two creeks converge. I recognize that the one would take us back to a place called Seven Cataracts. I have known about these pools for decades where there is skinny-dip water much of the year. They are visible from a vista lookout off of the highway (which we could see from much of the trail down).
At the highway’s lookout, the extreme decent off of the road’s edge looks dangerous and difficult to climb. There are loose rocks and all of the perils of desert wildlife. This could be the way to get to the pools without that risk.
The trail however, continues away from here and we have to secure a source for water before anything. We stay on the trail.
The Search for a Spot:
We find a fire pit and evidence of use, but no water nearby. We drop off our packs to lighten our load and continue up the trail to be certain that we have the spot that was described to us.
We do find some water, but it is a pretty good distance away. We go down to it by removing a dead tree that someone has curiously placed over our access.
There is an old fire pit and a ridge that will shield us from view of the trail. It could be a good stealth naturist spot, but it means setting up camp in the sand with little space for movement.
We hike back to our stuff. There are a couple of spots with evidence of recent activity that we see this time, that are across from the campsite. These are just mashed down tall grass and some barren spots that look like a part of a trail. It could be that way from the activity of that family.
We try one of the routes. It leads to sight of water in the tall grass, but no access to the ponding. I find another and this one does lead us to water. It will be difficult to use this source. There will be climbing on slippery rocks and balancing with poor footing, but doable.
We have to decide on our two choices. There is a slight breeze here, which could become colder at night, being exposed as we are. I walk over and see that down in the streambed, the vegetation is moving to the wind, too. This campsite is also visible from the trail.
We have realized that it seems that most people hike to the dam and then go back. Only backpackers seem to be going this way and this isn’t backpacking season. The warm temperatures are a fluke. I figure that I could always be nude and throw something over me, if someone did come wandering by and look up from watching their footing. There is probably just two or three hours of warm light left…what the heck. We’ll take it, we’ll rest, we’ll take the time to try out our new camping gear.
We begin to set up camp. The fire pit is well done, but we improve upon it. This area was hit by a fire a few years back and there is evidence of it everywhere. It is strange how something is devastated right next to where something isn’t burned. This site gives us a nice alligator juniper to be under and plenty of the firewood that we would need later.
My new Estwing tomahawk performs wonderfully making fire wood. I even chop through some thick chunks of dried wood quickly. I quickly adapt to it to pound in tent stakes. I am pleased that it digs latrines better than my camp shovel.
We are hungry and the new stove is doing great. It is however, a tad difficult to judge the intensity of the flame in the daytime. It will take some practice to hone our efficiency.
The food comes out wonderful. We simply heat water in the small kettle and pour it into light weight Styrofoam cups, where the dehydrated veggies, sauce and herbs await it. The taste of the rehydrated organic vegetables is delicious and fresh feeling. The cups warm our hands as we stir and sniff.
We venture down to the creek and balance on the round river rocks, getting fresh filtered water that taste wonderful at a seemly perfectly chilled temperature.
We find ourselves wandering around, watching the clouds turn colors as the sun sets. We take note of the silhouette of the balancing jagged rocks on the ridges, hoodoos. There appears to be a significant number of giant granite mushrooms up there.
Only one set of hikers comes by absorbed by the trail. I don’t think that they noticed us.
The air quickly becomes cold and we don our warm layers of clothing. The fire keeps us entertained and heated for a while. Too soon, it just becomes way too difficult to ward off the increasing cold. We try drinking hot tea, but it becomes more about just staying warm than having fun. We get into the tent early to get warm, more than it being about being tired
We both sleep a lot of lousy. I had to get up and release that warm tea a couple of times. At those times, I tested the outside temperature. The last time just before sunrise was definitely 30F’s. We had planned the equipment for 50F and possible 40F’s, but a more extreme test is certainly being given. DF will be looking into a better thicker pad and I’m looking into silk long underwear.
We awaken in the cold together, as the sun begins to brighten the day. We see that the colors of the new tent and sleeping bags resembled HoJo’s (Howard Johnson’s is an iconic business with an orange and blue theme in décor) we go back to a sleep spooning with more comfort.
The sound of a hummingbird buzzes the tent as we again awake. The sun has been up a while and we know that we are now running late. We need to get back for a 3:00pm appointment in town and shower first. The thing about this ultra-light backpacking is that everything is packed tight and has its place. One has to take time to accomplish this and the hot coals have to be doused. There is no choice, but to march back to the truck as quickly as we can. There is overcast, which is good, because we have to be dressed. We can’t really dawdle at all in anyway and be nude.
There are only two sets of hikers as we break camp and they are talking so much, that we get fair warning. As we come to the dam there are more. We also learn how easy it would be, to have our bare behinds overtaken going up a hill by quicker day hikers with no backpacks.
We learn that the next time that we may come this way, which will definitely be a warmer time, we will arrive earlier, or take an extra day. This way, we could leave camp and hike nude up to the seven cataracts for a possible skinny-dip. I have often heard that there is frequently water, surrounded by the granite slabs. This is winter there will be much more green foliage, later. This would be doable, even on a weekend.
We now have better practical clothing strategies for the chance of an extra cold snap on top of a mountain.
The trail has been reconnoitered and now we know what and when we can get away with, to remain nude. This is a junction. Downstream we’ll find Sabino Canyon and these trails lead to Hutchin’s Pool.
The equipment set up has worked very well. I suspect that a lightweight tarp might be worth the extra weight. I know now what and how much dehydrated food that we need to have along. The rehydrating food is very filling and the small pieces are packed with nutrition.
We know that we are not ready for some of the goals for next summer, and just what we are physically up for, at this point. We know that we like it. It has been very successful. Although only three hours of freerange/secret naturism was had, we now know how much that we can expand those parameters when we might return here.
We do march up back up the hill. It is probably good training for this summer. We make good time and get back nearly perfectly, in order to sit down in the front row seats that were saved for us.
What else did we learn?
To get in shape just get out, load up your pack with any weight and walk. Walk more each time and try to do it as many times as can be, before the planned hike. I got my legs back and more importantly, my stamina and wind.
I had been getting out naked with the full pack two or three times a week. I’d just head out back down the jeep trail and up the hill a few times. I had been sick for a few weeks, not getting that momentum again. When we hurriedly decided to do this, I was unprepared and not really sure what I could do, as I hadn’t been out practicing. DF does physical activities at her work, but not a sustained thing like carrying a load. Getting exercise is one of the main goals. We also dance at least weekly and stretch, attempting to keep the bodies more elastic and use those body parts that don’t get used as much.
Count the ounces in that bag:
When I first started hiking, I was told a target weight for my pack was 20% of my body weight. This will go up or down depending on the shape I’m in. That’s 35 to 40 pounds! I used to carry that through the Andes when I weighed only about 130 myself. Those days are over.
I had weighed nearly everything in the pack individually, coming out to around 14 pounds, including the pack. That is without the 1 1/4 lb. tomahawk. Then the addition of water (2 liters is 2 kilos or 4.4 pounds). DF took the food and one of the liter bottles, so we had three liters together and a pound, or less, of food. She carried her 3lb. sleeping bag and ¼ pound pad with minimal clothing, and incidentals. That worked out good, but after a couple of miles…
With this experience, we caught a bug. I could now justify investing in an ultra-light arrangement. Over a year, I researched and shopped, collecting a rig which weighs less than 10 pounds each. Two three pound bags are now one high end 19 ounce camping quilt. The 4 ½ pound tent is now a more efficient tarp and net tent weighing just a couple of pounds. There is much more to share, but it must all be in another story.
A tale of liberating a dude ranch and finding our way into the Dragoons.