Monday, February 27, 2012

San Tan Solitude

Sunday morning, after I dropped Dr Desert Flower off at the Sky Harbor Airport at 630am, I continued Eastward to San Tan Regional Park.  I always wanted to hike San Tan, but from my home it takes more than an hour to get there.  Being at the airport already, that shaved off almost 1/2 the trip, and it being just before sunrise, I hoped I could beat the crowds that seem to throng to the hiking trails around Phoenix on weekends.

I got to the Rock Peak Wash trailhead, the furthest South, and most remote part of the park, by 715am.  It was still 45F outside, so I took a polar fleece with me.  I was the Only car in the parking lot - yay!  A nominal $2 hiking fee, and I was off, hiking up the Rock Peak Wash trail, which should have been named 'Loose Sandy Beach Watch' since the sand was extremely loose and requiring trudging through it in the early dawn light.  0.8 miles later, I turned West on the San Tan trail, and then onto the Malipais trail with Rock Peak and the Southern San Tans rising SHARPLY to the South.  My initial plan was to head West along the Malpais trail, and look for a place to ascend into the mountains, and circle back to the east along the summit line.  LOL!   The photo below, showing the 100+ foot vertical rises made such a route, impossible. 
That dark shadow line horizontally along the center of the photo is the +100ft rise along the ridge.
A Friend of mine who decided to leave the trail and head up what appeared to be a gradual sloping "saddle" in the ridge line, told me how he found the ascent quite treacherous.  You see, that sudden Rise is a shear face friable low density sandstone.  My friend told me how when he went to grip parts of the wall to avoid sliding down the slope, head and thigh sized chunks of sandstone easily broke off in his hands, as he lost his footing repeatedly.  I of course, never left the assigned trail, and waited on the Malpais trail patently, for 2 hours, following park rules to not leave the trail while waited for my friend to come back to the trail and back to his senses.
Photo my Friend took from the ridge line at the top of the southern saddle.  He said that same vertical ridge formed a U shaped saddle on the South side of the Mountain range, out of sight from the Malpais trail.
There was all sorts of lovely wild flowers that were beginning to bloom along the trail, that my Friend took pictures of on his way up and down the ridge.  Yellows, purples, blues, when the desert wild flowers come into full bloom later this Spring, the southern San Tan valley will be lovely.

Once my Friend was back on the trail, and back to his senses, the rest of the Malpais trail was explored, followed by the San tan, Moonlight, Stargazer, San tan (again), Hedgehog, San Tan, and back to Rock Peak Wash.  Altogether, it was 11.4 miles over 5 hours (plus the 2 hours of ascent & descent stupidity / adventure where I waited for my Friend).  2 large Kelty bottles, 1 large Nalgene bottle, and a 1.5 liter Camelback were consumed, along with about 10 handfuls of Marcona almonds.  It was wonderfully invigorating, and a great hike - but I can't recommend the sandy washes that were not enjoyable to trudge through.  Once I got home, I soaked my feet in the 55F degree swimming pool for the time it took to drink a long cool white russian.  I'd crossed paths with 3 riders on horses,. one runner passed me up, one couple pushing an all-terrain baby stroller, and a family of three (older dad, later teen son in black, and much younger wife #2) crossed paths with me on one of the San tan legs.  Other than that, it was a great hike to commune with nature, see some soaring hawks, and get some hiking in before the Sonoran sun becomes brutal in a few months.

I did not visit the northern part of San tan Mountain Park, where the Goldmine Trailhead starts and the mountains are more gradually sloped, and probably more easily scaled, but I'll leave that to another day for my Friend to try.

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