Samaniego ridge three day backpacking adventure - day 1 part 4 - Mount Lemmon to Samaniego Peak
We left the house at about 8AM, and drove to Le Buzz for breakfast, which was stellar as usual.
I ordered apple cured bacon on an egg sandwich, and it was delicious. I had it eaten by the time we made it to the base of the mountain. by the time we made it up to the ski resort at Summerhaven, my stomach was done digesting, and I was ready to hike.
We knew that it was going to be a long day hiking if we had to start the hike climbing 2.5 miles and 800feet elevation with our 40 pound packs, which we were not yet accustomed to hefting, as well as getting used to the 8500 feet elevation. We asked the ski resort folks if we could park in the lot while we hiked down the mountain. They said yes, but we had to park in the upper corner out of the way. Jason moved his car, and we got ready to head up the mountain. So, on a fluke I asked a fellow in a pickup truck, who looked like a workman if we could ride up to the trailhead in the back. He said yes. I said outstanding.
Jason was so surprised and delighted that he forgot to grab his trekking poles from the back of his car. I asked him where his poles were when we got out of the pickup, and he realized that he left them. Fortuantely the fellow in the pickup was ahead of schedule, and offered to go back down the short road and grab them. He was a backpacker, and wanted to help any way he could. You can find good people everywhere.
Once we had regained our composure from first realizing that we had to do without our poles for the duration and then learning that it would be ok after all, we headed out from the trailhead first up to the summit, and then down toward Samaniego ridge turnoff at about 10:45AM. If we hadn't got a ride, then we wouldn't have been there until almost 2PM, which would have been a really late departure time. So it was good luck that we caught the ride.
We hiked down Mount Lemmon trail 5 down the ridge until we reached the Sutherland trail 6 turnoff and headed west to the turnoff for Samaniego ridge trail 7, which we took. We decided to take the high road and continued down the ridge toward Samaniego peak.
We realized that we were going to need to find a water source by the next morning at the latest, so we continued until about 6PM, and found a camp site near where the spring was supposed to be. We weren't exactly sure where the spring was supposed to be, because the trail was beginning to become obscured by overgrowth but we could see a faint trail from time to time. We decided to stop and pitch our tents before sundown, since it would be easier in sunlight than with our headlamps on in darkness.
We could see Samaniego Peak in the dusk light, and knew that Walnut spring should be located directly east of the peak. Unfortunately without two points of reference, one couldn't tell where due east is from the peak. We attempted to locate by looking to the left, and when it looked like we were across from the peak, we still weren't to walnut spring. So we attempted to find Walnut spring for about 20 minutes before things got too dark.
Unfortunately we didn't locate the spring before we used up the time we had alotted to find the spring before dark. We turned around and headed back to set up our campsite. I pitched my tent and unloaded my pack, rolling out the pad and sleeping bag, sheets, and located my toiletries so I could brush my teeth, and got ready for sleep.
We were both tired from hiking with our 40 pound packs on our first day out. We covered about 6.5 miles on the first day, and even though it was mostly downhill, there was still over 800 feet gained along the route. Neither of us were hungry, just tired and thirsty(and worried). Knowing that we were running short on water, we were starting to conserve our water supply.
Once I got my sleeping bag laid out, and everything stowed away in the tent, I took a look at the map to see why we didnt run into the spring. After looking at the map I decided that I didnt understand why we were not able to locate the spring, and decided that I needed more information. I bought my Garmin GPSMAP64st handheld from a good friend, but have never learned fully how to operate all the features of the unit. So I was not sure that I could make it do what I needed for it to do.
Fortunately, I had previously downloaded the GPX file for the Samaniego ridge trail "track" from Hiking Arizona. So I decided to play around with the GPS until to see if I could locate where Walnut spring is compared to our location. As it turns out, I saved our current track before I set up the tent, so I replaced the batteries with a fresh set which I had brought along for the GPS unit, and powered it back up. I switched the screen to "MAP", and I noticed that it was displaying the current track, otherwise known as where we had actually walked. I called up the Samaniego ridge GPX file, and saw both the trail "track" and the map "track". So, next, in map mode I used the arrows and moved the pointer along the map track that I called up ahead on the trail and found an item, that when I pressed enter on that item, it identified the item as Walnut spring. Bingo!
So the GPS unit targeted the spring for navigating to. I noticed that the spring was 1100 feet away from our campsite on down the trail, but we only walked down the trail 600 feet, so the reason why we didn't reach the spring is because we stopped 500 feet too soon. I noticed a note on the map that identified Walnut spring as a "seasonal water source", and so that made me nervous. But then, I went back to the map and I noticed that Walnut spring is prominently displayed on the map, like it's not really seasonal.
So what I did was I stayed up for several hours to come up with contingency plans, and tried to determine the levels of risk and opportunity associated with each approach to solving our water problem in the context of our backpacking trip. Finally after a couple of hours of thinking about it, I concluded that we had at least two options, the first being the best option....
Option 1) Go to Walnut spring and filter water. No consequences, this is the best option by far, but apparently there is some risk, since it is a spring that does not run all 12 months per year. But the fact that the spring is featured so prominently on the map, suggests that it rarely runs dry, hence low risk.
Option 2) Hike back 1.5 miles to the turnoff going down to Canada del Oro trail, which goes along the stream and hike the 0.6 miles down to the trail, and about 600 feet of elevation loss down to the streambed. The stream is most certainly flowing, because of all the snow melt on this rainy year with all the water flowing down from Mount Lemmon. Consequences are time lost, and energy burnt. We would need to haul extra water to mitigate risk that there will not be any more water on the ridge. We would hike a total of 4.2 miles to fetch water, and would need our packs to be much heavier to haul the extra water at 8 pounds per gallon. This option would be a very low risk very near zero in my thinking, but still a small finite risk. If it is dry, then all we should have to do is continue down the trail, and water WILL show up at some point, because all of the snow melt from Mount Lemmon on the west side of the ridgeline flows into CDO, all snow melt from Mount Lemmon on the east side flows into Lemmon creek. One suboption is to switch to hiking down CDO instead of Samaniego ridge. The plusses are that there is lots of shade, as opposed to the ridge. The negatives are that it's a miles longer route, and Jason didn't have time to spare. He needed to be back working on Tuesday.
Option 3) In the extremely unlikely event that both Walnut spring doesn't have water, and Canada del Oro doesn't have water, we could hike back the 5 miles and 1,800 feet up to the snow melt along the trail back up on Mount Lemmon. In this option, there would be zero risk, because we actually walked through the water the previous day, and know that it's there to be had. The main consequence of this choice is the time, and effort to hike the additional 10 miles. But this would cause us to lose a day, and thus was a nonstarter, unless we brought our packs and just hiked back to jasons car, and called it quits on the Ridge Backpacking trip this time.
I worried most of the night, but was confident that I had accurately captured the three best options and suboptions, and these are all viable choices.
I finally went to sleep around 4AM and slept until about 8 AM.
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Last Update: March 27, 2017
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