Saturday, March 17, 2012

Superstitious Yoga at 4800 ft

I got the brilliant / wild-hair (U.M.A.) idea yesterday, that I was going to drive to Apache Junction this morning, hike 4 miles horizontally and almost a mile vertically, and then do yoga, up on the "Flat Iron" before the rain begins this evening here in the Phoenix valley.  Apache Junction is about as close to our West Side home, as Wisconsin is to Hammond Indiana, with a city of 5 million people in-between.  I pre-packed my water and food, hiking stick, hat, sun tan lotion, sun glasses, and hiking clothes Friday night.  Woke up without an alarm at 4am Saturday morning, and was out of the house after checking weather & email (one more time) by 5am. 

I got to the Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction just after 6:15am, as there was no traffic and no police, and the few people on the I-10 were averaging about 80mph.  Mine was the only car in the "day use" parking lot when I arrived.  Good.  I cherish my solitude, and don't like crowded hikes.  I hit the Discovery & Siphon Draw trails and headed uphill, carrying almost 5 liters of water (large Camelback, 2 Nalgenes, and 2 Kelteys) on my back, and no breakfast in my stomach.  I got to see a glorious sunrise over the East Valley.

As I was ascending into the Superstition Mountains, I was passed on 3 occasions, by lone hikers, males in their 20s or early 30s, carrying less than a liter of water each.  They were each wearing NBA style shorts and an athletic t-shirt.  Old man Joe was in jeans and 3 layers - it was 55F and very windy, and walking with my Gandalf-esque walking stick.  They each passed me like I was standing still.  2 of them reached the top, turned around, and began their descent passing me in the opposite direction before I reached the Flat Iron summit.But that's ok, 'old age, wisdom & cunning' before 'youth, beauty & strength', I always say! (or at least I say it now that I'm in the 2nd half of my life) - LOL!
This is what loomed in front of me:  The shear vertical faces of what I THOUGHT were the imposing Superstitions.  Silly me, those are the foot hills.  By 9:45, when I was at the summit, I looked down at those puny cliff faces below.  The REAL summit can't be seen from Lost Dutchman Park, the shear foot hills block it.  (note the moon still visible, at dawn, in the upper right).

About 1/2 way up, you encounter a V shaped stone canyon that's somewhat steep.  I wouldn't want to be in it during a rain storm.  You can see it pictured to the left here (and again at the bottom of the posting, with tiny little people in it, seen from afar).  There were large rocks (boulders) and dead century and agave plant matter strewn at the bottom of the V rock canyon, so tonight when the thunderstorms get here, that'll be a rushing torrent.  The goal was to be off the mountain, or home before the rains began, and that goal was achieved.  You can see the Flat Iron "peeking" up at the upper right of this picture.

Before this V rock canyon, the ascent is pretty gradual and routine.  After the V rock canyon, it gets increasingly steep and tricky.  The trail is well marked with dots and arrows (thankfully!) to guide the trail novice up.  The last 100 feet are the hardest scramble, requiring very grippy gloves, very grippy shoes, and careful foot and hand placement to scale some difficult rock formations.

But once you are at the summit, it's pretty amazing.  You can google "Flat Iron Panorama" and see all sorts of Youtube videos on it.  There's the left side.. the right side... but the actual upper summit (higher than the Flat Iron by another 3 or 400 feet) is back behind all of those. 
It was extremely windy, so I only made a panorama at the very summit, where some clever individual had attached an American flag to a 20 foot tall Agave stalk.  It took a great deal of scrambling to reach the upper most summit.  At the top I saw countless prickly pear cacti, agaves, palo verde trees, mesquite bushes, and ironwood trees, all of which had been hit by lightening, and were partially burnt, or completely incinerated.  it reinforced 'getting off the mountain' before the evening thunderstorms were to arrive.
After soaking in the view for a good 15 minutes, I looked for a flat place to do yoga.   I finally found a large rock that was almost 100% level, to the North East of the summit, about 300 feet away.  I set up shop there. 
The summit is seen in the center, upper right.
 The whisk broom I brought effectively cleared away small rocks (painful under a yoga mat). It was the best and most satisfying environment in which I've ever done yoga.  Better than my back yard, Sedona, the Hawaiian Hotel balcony, or the beach on St. John.  And infinitely better than any hotel room. I saw a few ravens flying nearby riding thermals (and looking for hand-outs I think), and several military helicopters (Blackhawks) far below me, around 1500 feet.  The view was magnificent.  The rock I found was mostly sheltered from the strongly gusting wind, and I was even able to take this image, in wide leg forward bend:
At the end of that rock (and end of my shadow as well), it was about a 200 foot drop off.  I'm glad the rock was stable.  That's Apache Junction (inverted) and Phoenix farther off (about 30 miles away, the down town buildings look like the smallest, tiniest Lego Blocks you can imagine).  The rock was refreshingly cool, as no morning sun had yet baked it, and it felt good on my hot & tired feet, through the yoga mat.  1/2 way up the mountain I was regretting lugging the mat in my Camelback back-pack, but once at the top, it made it all worth it.
Lightning strikes like this were common, all over the summit.  It was strange to see 1/2 "melted" succulents, and obviously charred tree limbs with the rest of the tree often in-tact.  The wind was blowing so hard and constant, that it's likely that any living tree that was hit by lightning (and thus still had moisture in it) had one limb burnt off and then the fire blown out by the powerful wind (and perhaps quenched by rain as well?).  I would NOT want to be up on the summit in a rain storm.
This is a shot I took looking back up the trail upon descent.  Two 20-something year old male hikers with FULL Back Packs and bed rolls were ascending, and we passed each other.  I asked them incredulously "you're not gonna camp up there tonight, are you?"
"F*CK Yeah!!!" was their enthusiastic reply.  I told them about the multiple lightning strike evidence I saw and they laughed.
"We got the gear, we got the beer!!!" and as the distance increased and I continued down, I over-heard one of the fool-hearty young men say "that's why I take my aluminum helmet, old man!" and his buddy laughed uproariously.  Good luck to them.  NASA says men are 4 times more likely to be hit by lightning than women.  Go figure.

It was a good thing I got such an early start.  The hike down was CROWDED.  Ridiculously crowded.  With hikers queuing up at narrow points and scrambling areas, and causing small rock and gravel slides down on each other.  It was about as bad as Camelback Mountain on a nice week day... but not quite as bad as on a tourist-filled Spring or Fall weekend.
There were lots of wildflowers, every-where, on the slopes, along the trail, in the trail, and at the summit, and many of the cacti were blooming as well.
When Dr Desert Flower and I were at the Superstitions last weekend, there were some wild flowers blooming, sure.  But this week, it's an explosion of yellow, with many other colors thrown in there as well.  After tonight's rain, there'll be a prismatic spray of color to be taken in.   Too bad we live so far away from the Superstition Mountains.

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