A Walk in the Woods (not to be confused with…)

(Not to be confused with a title of the same name by Bill Bryson, but a tale just as fraught with adversity in nature)

Our walk in the woods involved a hike up Mazatzal Peak in southern Arizona. The hike seemed somewhat trivial, just 14 miles in length while gaining 3,700′ in elevation. Not so bad, eh?

An early morning start found my hiking partner George and me blasting up the trail, full of energy, while imagining a return to our vehicle by early afternoon. Those first few miles just seemed to glide past as we ascended the scenic winding trail up toward our peak. All too soon our sense of tranquility was rudely interrupted as we rounded a bend in the trail and reality reared its ugly head. Hark, the trail took a sudden turn downhill. Looked like we would need to depart from the trail and ascend a broad slope which connected to a ridge leading toward the summit. No problem, eh? No problem if we had a chain saw. The brush on either side of the trail consisted of a dense grove of Manzanita trees — otherwise known as “iron wood” — a sorry specimen, indeed.

We circumvented the impenetrable trees, and finally broke into a clearing with the ridge just several hundred feet above. High Fives were exchanged and we strode uphill toward what appeared to be a grove of small saplings. The closer we got the less they looked like small saplings and more like those fences which surround prison yards. If we could get through the Manzanita forest, this couldn’t be any worse, or could it?

George fights his way through Cat Claw

It wasn’t long before we became separated in a nearly impenetrable thicket of cat claw bushes. Cat Claws have claw-shaped spines which can protrude over an inch long from the branches. Our only form of communication was a loud “ouch” followed by a stream of cuss words. We were literally stabbed in the arms, neck, face and other places too personal to mention. Progress was measured only by the amount of blood which was shed. The idea that we might get back to our vehicle by early afternoon dissipated like the early morning fog. The question was more on the order of “is my headlamp in my pack”?

All good things must come to an end as we finally exited the stand of cat claw by balancing along on top of several downed logs. Finally, we were on the ridge! The going ahead looked easier, mainly consisting of criss-crossed clusters of blackened, fallen trees, the result of a recent forest fire. Imagine doing a couple of hours on a Stair Master machine and you’ll get the picture of our next obstacle course. Are we having fun yet?

Yes, we finally did make the summit and returned to our vehicle before the sun had set, but just barely. And, we sure as hell picked a different way off the mountain, a little smarter and less smug than when we started.

Comments are closed.