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Archives for : Hiking

Peppersauce Cave

Our trip to Peppersauce Cave started out like a lot of our other adventures.  The local weather was crazy.  We had just experienced the largest rain storm of the monsoon season, and the streets were flooded and freeways closed.  Peppersauce Cave, however, is near Oracle and about two hours South East of Phoenix.  They seemed to have clear skies and sunshine.  If we left late that afternoon, we would get there just in time to grab some dinner and get to the cave slightly after dark.  We figured it didn’t much matter if it was light outside, since it would be pitch black inside.

Although Peppersauce Cave is open to the public, there is not an official parking lot–just a wide spot in the road that can fit about three vehicles.  We had no trouble finding the cave, as we were with Travis from 2 Brothers’ Adventures who has been to Peppersauce many times.  We crossed the road and started up the wash where we found the official sign.  It was pretty much destroyed from graffiti but shows a map of about half of the actual cave.

The main entrance to Peppersauce Cave was about 20 yards up the wash past the sign.  A quick scramble up the side of the hill and over some tree roots will put us at the mouth of the cave… which it not very big.  We had to belly crawl to to a small room and squeeze through another spot at the back of this area, which put us into a larger room.  After we made it in, we decided our first goal was to reach the lake at the far end.  The second goal was to find the “Rabbit Hole.”

We made our way through this first area and found the landmark known as the “Three Fissures.”  We scooted our way down this hallway of rock until it opened into yet another room.  At this point, I could see how easily someone could get lost in here with all the

tunnels and crevices.  At some point, we stopped and turned off our lights to experience the total darkness.  Our eyes strained to see any amount of light, but there was none.  The only sound was the occasional drip of water slowly building stalactites as it has done over the past several thousand years.  I tried not to imagine how many tons of earth and rock were above our heads, which is easier if you keep moving.

We walked for a ways towards the back of the cave.  I noticed how warm the cave felt and also how high the humidity was.  I’m guessing that the temperature was in the high 70’s and humidity had to be in the 90% range.  We could faintly see our breath, as it did not evaporate like it normally does.  I was also very disappointed by the amount of graffiti covering the walls.  It is amazing to me that some people don’t think twice about defacing a permanent rock feature.  Most markings were arrows and notes, guidelines to keep any would-be spelunkers from getting lost, but the amount of colors and markings made any directions unreadable.  Very destructive.

Towards the back of the large room was the ladder.  This ladder is very secure and bolted to the the rock and drops you down about 12 feet to a slippery path.  We kept going a bit, and found ourselves at the furthest end of the cave and the lake.  The water seemed a little murky when we found it.  Our lights caused the cave ceiling to reflect onto the water’s surface and appear like a rock crater.  Very cool except for the trash floating in it.

After the lake is where the real adventure began.  Climbing a ladder is always fun with a couple inches of mud on your boots.  The ladder down to the rabbit hole was no exception.  Very stable, just a bit slippery.  There used to be just a rope leading down, so the ladder is a great improvement.  Take your time and watch your step.

peppersauce_cave-rabbit-holeThe Rabbit Hole was tons of fun, as we got to jam our bodies into an 18 inch hole (some go head first).  We almost didn’t get to see what was on the other side due to one of our teammates eating one slice of pizza too many at dinner.  The funny thing was, he had already tossed his backpack through.  We brought Chacho along, the youngest…and scrawniest, and he gladly and easily slipped through.  Now, curious to see what was on the other side, I slid through.  Surprisingly, the rest of the crew was just as curious, and we all made it through after all!

Well, we had been to the lake, and we had also found the Rabbit Hole… now what?  Everything on this side was pretty much uncharted territory for us.  Travis had been through the hole only once and didn’t venture very far, as he had gone through alone at the time.  We had heard that there was a log book somewhere, so we had our goal!

Like the rest of Peppersauce cave, this larger room had many smaller corridors branching out and leading every which way.  We picked one and headed out.  After about 15 minutes of twisting, turning and scrambling we happen upon the log book!

peppersauce_cave-log-book

 The log book was just laying on the ground out in the open.  Kind of a weird spot if you ask me but, there it was, and we signed in.  After a few minutes of exploring the surrounding area, we agreed it was time to head back.  We’d achieved all the things we wanted to do and them some.  Well, except for one…. we needed to get out and back to the truck.

We set out, backtracking the way we’d come in, following the familiar passages and formations…or so we thought.  The further we went the less we recognized.  We went for about 15 minutes and finally came upon a familiar sight….the log book.  We’d unknowingly gone in a complete circle!!!  We were lost…while knowing exactly where we were, if that makes any sense.  Now we had two questions:  1) How do we get out of here? 2) Do we get to sign the log book again?

Agreeing that one entry in the book was sufficient, we made attempt number two with Chacho in the lead.  He claimed he knew where we went wrong.   Apparently his expertise in video game mazes and tunnels finally paid off, as he was able to lead us right back to the Rabbit Hole.  During that second g0-around, we did realize where we went wrong.  A large arrow was spray painted on the rock that read LOOP.  So now we know.

The Rabbit Hole is also known as the Birth Canal (for obvious reasons).  We were all able to make it through without incident.  I guess knowing that you made it through once means you can make it through again, but it took away some of the excitement.  We made our way back up the ladder and back to the large room.  With only one other small detour and backtrack, we made it to the main cave entrance.

 peppersauce_cave-log-book-group

What a great experience for all of us.  Spending quality adventure time with friends and family is what it’s all about.  We’ll be back soon.

What do you need for Peppersauce cave?

  • Lights: At least three sources.  Headlamps are very nice, and I also liked having a flashlight in hand.
  • Fresh batteries and backup batteries
  • Helmet
  • Drinking water
  • Snacks
  • Clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty…really dirty!
  • Small sack for picking up garbage… Actually you could easily fill a large sack with the amount of trash people leave.
  • Scense of Humor…. plan on having a great time!

I’d like to thank Travis from 2BrothersAdventures for an excellent trip!  Looking forward to many more!

 

Buckskin Gulch

I love it when I’m right. It wasn’t long ago when I predicted this trip to Buckskin Gulch was going to be epic. If anything, I underestimated it. This thirteen mile slot canyon is the longest and deepest canyon in the Southwest and is one of the best hikes I’ve done.  It will be hard to top…but I’m not afraid to try.

The crew was supposed to consist of six hikers, but was reduced to five at the last minute. Major bummer not having Leo with us, but there is always next time. We left Phoenix in the late afternoon with a planned stop in Page, AZ for a fast-food dinner before reaching our final destination–White House Trailhead. All went as planned as we rolled in around 11pm and setup camp as quietly as possible, trying not to disturb the other sleeping campers. With the moonbuckskin-gulch-white-house-trailhead being so bright, we attempted to get some sleep and ready ourselves for the day ahead. We were awakened at 6:30am by the other hikers preparing for the first shuttle. We had one hour before our ride would be there to take us to the Wire Pass Trailhead where we would begin our adventure into the slot canyon known as Buckskin Gulch.

Breaking camp was uneventful and Susan, from Paria River Outpost and Guides,was right on time. We loaded up, headed out, and engaged in some interesting conversation along the way. Apparently Susan, our shuttle driver, had made the same hike we were about to do–once–about 19 years ago. “Never again!” and “Better you than me!” were some of her comments. Apparently she did not have a good experience, and this set everyone on edge, especially Rob, who is a bit claustrophobic. We knew it was going to be a long 8 to 10 hour day, and we felt we were ready. As we crossed a small bridge over the Paria river, I took note of the water level, as we would be hiking up the same river the next day. It seemed to be about 3 to 6 inches deep and fairly wide at that spot. “Should be ineresting,” I thought to myself as we all had different approaches to hiking in cold water.

buckskin-gulch-wire-passThe 30 minute drive to the Wire Pass Trailhead was quick, and we were anxious to get on the trail. We started off around 8:30am and headed into the dry stream bed, that consisted of mostly loose sand. We had a GPS lock on the Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch intersection. Unfortunately, the GPS showed a straight shot and we had to follow the wash as it snaked through the desert until the canyon walls started to rise up around us.

buckskin-gulch-arch-group

I think the tightest spot of the trip was just a few hundred yards into the slot.  I actually ripped my REI Flash 65 backpack on the rough canyon walls as I tried to squeeze through.  My pack needed some added character, and a few small tears in the mesh side pockets did the trick.  I’ll take it slower next time.  We stopped at the arch for a group picture just before Wire Pass connected with Buckskin Gulch.

buckskin-gulch-slot-canyonI decided to take my Canon DSLR camera on the trip at the last minute, and I’m so glad that I did.  From the moment we got into the canyon it was difficult not to take pictures of EVERYTHING!  Around every corner there was a new and magnificent sight.  Beams of light would stream down from the sun, somewhere above, and wash over the canyon walls.  At times it felt as if you were in a tunnel of solid rock and could see the bright light at it’s end.  The red and pink hues of the Navajo sandstone were vibrant with streaks of black stains left by water.

buckskin-gulch-jp

We hiked for several hours before taking a break for lunch.  Our goal was to get to Middle Trail which marked… the middle.  We were told that it was sometimes difficult to find and that many people walk right past it.  By this time we were pretty hungry and due for a good rest so we were extra vigilant.  We had it marked on a GPS and knew were were within a half mile.  Note: It is VERY difficult to get a GPS signal once you enter the canyon.  We found the Middle Trail with no issue and discussed how diffucult it would be to use the escape route.  We agreed it was all dependant on how hard it was raining and how much you valued your life.  The scamble up didn’t seem too bad.  Pretty sure anyone would scamper up it, especially in a thunder storm.

buckskin-gulch-log-jam

After lunch and a well deserved rest, we headed out for our next obstacle, the Rock Jam.  Notice I didn’t say “The Cesspool.”  Buckskin Gulch was very dry all the way through. Even in the dry season The Cesspool usually has water in it, and there is no way around.  We counted ourselves lucky as this time we were unable to tell where it was.  There were a few boulder jams along the way.  Nothing too difficult, but we took it slow to reduce the risk of twisting an ankle so far away from civilization.  There were many logs wedged between the canyon walls high overhead as a subtle reminder of just how high the water can get in this canyon.

buckskin-gulch-rock-jam-rabbit-holeThe Rock Jam has what is called a “rabbit hole.”  There must be very big rabbits in this area as I envisioned having to crawl into a small opening to go under the enormous boulder pile.  The “rabbit hole” is huge and is at times full of debris making it impassible.  This time it was wide open and even had a “new-ish” rope to aide in the down climb.  Definetly doable without the rope, but easier with.  It seemed to be about ten feet down the slanted rock to the canyon floor, under the boulder and the famous Rock Jam was at our backs as we headed out.

We began looking for the water seeping from the rock as we hoped to refill our CamelBacks for the trip tomorrow.  Soon enough a small (very small) stream of water appeared on the trail.  It looked pretty “sketchy” as it was full of algae.  We knew the safe camp was close and hoped to find a bit better water source to filter from.

buckskin-gulch-safe-camp-tentAfter nine hours of hiking we rolled into camp.  This campsite is one of my most favorite sites I’ve ever been in.  It seems to be a huge  reddish sand dune with grass and trees growing out of it.  There is a trail that leads to the top and takes you about 30 feet above the canyon floor to an area that can easily hold 4-5 two-man tents.  There was another site below us that a group of three hikers used that was beautiful with trees for their hammock.  Also across the canyon were at least two more sites that  could fit a couple of small tents.  We were very suprised to find out that we were the only two groups staying that night.

buckskin-gulch-safe-camp

We set up our tents and went to assess the water situation.  We found a small spot where the water was about three inches deep and flowing clear.  We were a bit paranoid and decided to err on the side of caution by double filtering.  It was probably overkill, but we did not want to have anyone getting sick.  We filtered enough water to refill our CamelBacks, cook dinner with and have a bit extra just incase.

buckskin-gulch-safe-camp-view

We had met the three hikers early in the day and passed each other multiple times as each rested or stopped for photographs.  One of them turned out to be Brian Lane, the author of Hikernut’s Grand Canyon Companion.  We chatted a bit was we filtered our water.  He had a UV light that purified his water and I’ve been wanting one ever since!  A real nice group of people and we wish them the best as they hike all the big canyons of the Southwest.

buckskin-gulch-slot-canyon

The Buckskin Gulch is a pristine canyon where you “take only pictures and leave only footprints.”  You are required to pack everything out and I mean everything!  While we were filtering water, Julia had taken it upon hereself to read the directions to the “Human Waste Containment Bags.”  Apparently, these are pretty sophisticated little sacks and are much more high-tech than one might think.  The only question now was… who was going to try it first?  I am very disappointed to say that everyone suffered a severe case of stage fright.  And to think that I was actually excited to give it a go!

Dinner was great, as it always is after a long day in the boots.  Mountain House all around with a little bit of chocolate mousse for dessert.  I could tell it was going to be an early night especially after seeing Rob shuffling around the campsite with his treking pole.  Thirteen and a half miles makes for a long day… and a good nights sleep.  After a small dose of Tylenol PM, we were sound asleep… no matter how crazy bright the moon was.

We slept in until about 7am and woke up to an absolutely beautiful morning.  We cooked breakfast and packed up.  We were not in a huge hurry as none of us looked forward to hiking up the frigid waters of the Paria River.  When we finally got going, we headed down off the hill and through Brian’s now empty campsite.  Well, almost empty.  As we passed through we a scared a turkey out of one of the bushes.  Seriously, a real turkey!  I have no idea how it got in the canyon as it doesn’t seem to belong there.  I was lucky enough to get a picture of it because I know there will be many who won’t believe me.

buckskin-gulch-slot-canyonThe next quarter mile or so was my favorite part of the canyon.  The canyon walls rose straight up out of the sandy bottom to over 300 feet.  One truly feels insignifcant while walking these corridors.  It was absolutely stunning.  I wish I would have taken more pictures in this area.  I think I was just awe-struck and forgot.

buckskin-gulch-slot-canyon-8

 Following the stream down the canyon we noticed a side slot.  Can this be the Paria River?  There was no water.  I was pretty sure we needed to continue down stream and fully expected a much different scene at the confluence.  buckskin-gulch-paria-riverJeff decided to walk up the side canyon for a better look and ran into two day hikers.  We asked them where they started from and were shocked when they said White House Trailhead.  I was even more shocked when they told us that this was the most water they had seen all day.  The Paria River was dry.  It was flowing the day before when I took note as we crossed the bridge.  It must have gone underground at some point.  So much for hiking in cold water… Yipee!

We hiked up the Paria dry wash all the way back to our car parked at White House Trailhead.  The hike was an uneventful four and a half hours, except for a rattlesnake!  buckskin-gulch-rattle-snakeIt was actually the second one we’d seen in two days.  Neither one seemed to be the small “midget” snakes that I had read about before the trip.  These appeared to be the real deal and I would estimate them being about 4 footers.  Other than the snake, it was a long hot slog back to the car while the canyon walls slowly disappear around you as well as the shade.  Although the landscape is beautiful in it’s own way, it’s hard to appreciate it with the spectacular views of the inner canyon still fresh in your mind.

buckskin-gulch-slot-canyon-sandThe 21 miles of this latest adventure will not be soon forgotten.  Rob and Carla did absolutely amazing, this being one of their first major adventures with many more to come.  It’s always fun to hike with Jeff and Julia and sense the excitement as our adventure unfolds.  I must say, we had it pretty good with the weather being as nice as it was and the lack of water to hike/wade through.  We just might be getting spoiled.

Even though this trip only had hints of Type Two Fun mixed in (long, hot, second day), the overall adventure was just as I predicted it would be… EPIC!

buckskin-gulch-paria-river-group

Get your permits from:

 Arizon BLM website for the Paria Canyon Wilderness Area.

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Weaver’s Needle – Superstition Mountains – Az

After the past trip into the Superstition Mountains, I’ve realized they can’t all be Type Two Fun.  This one was pretty much type one all the way.  Everything seemed to go as planned, with no crazy shifts in the weather or gear malfunctions.  I think we even remembered most everything, which is somewhat shocking.  With my pack weighing in at 32lbs for an overniter, what could I have possibly forgotten?  Because a third of my pack weight was water (that’s how we roll in the desert), it was heavy, but not the heaviest.  Rob weighed in with a 47 pounder!  Dude, we’re gonna be gone less than 24 hrs!  More on that a bit later.

We’ve hiked this route several times and usually stop at Fremont Saddle.  Once we actually climbed Weaver’s Needle and camped out on top… and nearly died.  Check out the trip report here.  But this trip is special for me because I’m taking my boy, Connor, with me.  While he has been camping many times, this will be his first backpacking trip.  I know, shame on me, I feel horrible about it, but better late than never.  With water, Connor’s pack came in at 23 lbs which is a pretty heavy pack for an 80 pound kid.

Our crew started out at the Peralta Trail TH about mid afternoon.  Goal was to make it to the Pinion camp site before dark, as we did not have the GPS coordinates but had a general idea of its location.  Other than the weather being a bit on the warm side, the hike up the valley was beautiful, and we made only the occasional stop in the shade.  Because it was so hot, we constantly reminded each other to keep drinking.  We started out pretty late in the day, so we only passed a few people coming down the trail. 

We stopped for a break at the cave that looks over the valley from where we’d come.  Refueled with some quick snacks, we topped out at Fremont Saddle shortly after.  I love the view of the needle from there as it looks so rugged and extreme.  After a few minutes of taking in the desert views, we set off.  We always seem to have difficulties finding the trail down.  Take the trail to the west and expect to quickly switchback to the east.  The trail is well defined once you are on it.  After about 30 minutes of easy downhill hiking, we rolled into Pinion camp.

The sun hadn’t quite set and we all picked out the perfect spots for our respective tents.  Some spots were more perfect than others.  I try to get as level as possible and furthest away from known snorers.  We succeeded, and with such an amazing view of Weaver’s Needle in the back ground, there was little to complain about. 

Pinion camp seemed to have about 5-6 decent spots for small tents with one main fire-ring and 1 or 2 smaller ones.   We gathered a few sticks for a small fire to gather around during dinner.  Being in the desert at a popular spot, the firewood pickings were slim as expected.  Now, apparently my good friend Rob is not into lightweight backpacking, in fact just the opposite.  This guy actually brought a 5 lbs DuraFlame log!!!  Who brings fake wood camping?!?!?!  Not just camping but backpacking!  We had a good laugh and gave him a hard time, but truth be told, it made for a nice fire that lasted well into the night.  Thanks, Rob!  Just don’t tell anyone. 

Why does dinner taste so good around a campfire?  I don’t think it’s actually the food, as I have never craved freeze-dried cardboard loaded with sodium when at home.  But for some reason after a good hike and sitting next to a campfire with good company, it’s the best thing ever!  We all had Mountain House freeze-dried meals that are super light, but require water, and water is heavy.  I boiled water for everyone with my JetBoil. 

I love that little stove.  It boils 2 cups of water in about 2 minutes and is so easy to set up, clean up and pack up.  It worked great except that the igniter broke, and I had to light it with my lighter.  I guess it’s time to put REI to the test on their return policy.  I had the Mac and Cheese and gave Connor the chicken and mashed potatoes (my favorite).  Apparently it was pretty good, as we scraped the bags clean even though there were two servings.  Dessert was suppose to be Double Chocolate Cheesecake but ended up like pudding, which was good enough for us as we polished it off as well.

Sitting around the campfire after a good meal is one of my favorite things in the whole world.  The moon was pretty brigh,t and you could actually see the outline of the needle and the surrounding rock formations.  We reminisced about other trips we’d done and chatted about future ones.  I was able to scare Rob with the ol’ growling water bottle trick.  The funny thing was, we had just told the story 10 minutes before about scaring Leo when hiking through the Bear Tooths.  Good times!

We retreated to our tents around 10:30 and went to bed.  Connor slept like a rock, as I expected he would after the hike with a heavy pack and now a full belly.  I wish I could sleep like that.  Unfortunately, I’m still struggling with my Big Agnes sleeping bag, and I tend to sweat on top and freeze on the bottom. The temperature only dropped into the mid 50’s, really nice actually.  Other than that, the night was quiet until morning when I was awaken by something eating grass and running around my tent.  Pretty sure it was a rabbit or two, and it was time to get up and get going anyway.

After a breakfast of instant oatmeal and Mountain House “Breakfast Skillet” (good stuff), we packed up and headed out.  We stopped for a quick break and a few photos at Fremont Saddle.  There were a lot people there compared to the afternoon before.  The trip down was very fas,t and we made good time even with the streams of people on the trail.  It was amazing how you could wake up feeling like you were out in the middle of nowhere and within 1 hour be surrounded by 30 people.

We made it back to the trailhead (a bit faster than I expected) and signed our group out at the log book.  I remember thinking that this was one of the smoothest trips I had been on.  Definitely not a Type Two Fun trip, but a fun one just the same.  Heck, we even had a fake fire!  These are the kinds of trips that blur into oblivion after time because nothing crazy happened to set it apart.  The one thing that I will remember from this trip is being with my son on his first backpack trip.  He did great and I am so proud of him and look forward to many more adventures in the future.