Samaniego ridge three day backpacking adventure - day 3 part 7 - Hiking down Charouleau Gap road to Lago del oro pkwy
I slept solid from a little after sunset (about 8PM) to about sunrise (about 6:30AM), feeling very rested, not really hungry, and ready to hike.
Jason's tent is quicker to put up and take down than mine, so I got up right as soon as I woke up in the morning. Unfortunately, Jason had already woke up and was in the process of getting packed up. We both were packed up and ready to go by 6:55AM, and surprisingly not very hungry even though we had only eaten one meal in the first two days. We had snacked some. But that's all he had consumed.
The one meal we had cooked, we actually cooked was one of the dehydrated backpacking dinners the previous evening at sunset, but for some reason we both felt an unspoken need to head out early and forgo breakfast, perhaps to beat the heat in the afternoon later in the day crossing the 6.4 miles in the valley, by starting that trek earlier. We didn't really talk about it, we just headed out.
As it turned out, the going was extremely slow, and we had 3.2 miles of, in essence bushwacking and route finding just to get to the trailhead at the gap. The trail took us to a couple of ridge peaks, and the view was great, so at both, we sat and took some pictures, and enjoyed the cooling breeze.
On one of the ridge peaks, the views were some of the best we had seen thus far in our 3 days out backpacking. We got lots of pictures. You could go out on the tops of tall rock outcroppings, and see for a long way up to the right toward the south end of the Samaniego ridge, then over toward Mount Lemmon, then over more to the north to see Red Ridge, and lower into the valley the CDO, then further north Oracle ridge on to the north, and the Oracle hills. It is a really amazing and sweeping panorama.
Continuing on, we pushed through a couple of miles of really nasty dense thorny bushes that had overgrown and obscured the trail, forcing us to use the GPS nearly constantly. Fortunately, the trail finally got better in the last mile, and so the hiking went faster as we got closer to the trailhead on Charouleau Gap road.
We finally reached the last section, and the trail wrapped around the last ridge, and descended rapidly. We met a fellow who was about 70, and he was hiking up as we were hiking down.
He said he hiked across the Gap road, and up the mountain, and back down as a day hike twice or three times a week. That's about a 16 mile hike about twice or three times a week. I guess the guy must be pretty healthy, because he was hiking much too fast for me to keep up with him. Like they say, if you want to get better at hiking, you need to hike more.
We didn't really eat anything until we got to the Charouleau gap trailhead that day, and there we just snacked on trailfood. When we arrived at the Charouleau gap trailhead, we sat down and had our lunch. We snacked for a few minutes having dried fruit and fig newtons and nuts, and some water.
It took us from 7AM to 1:07PM to hike those 3.2 miles. Most of that (6 hours 0f)time was consumed in trail finding, except for the last 7 tenths of a mile, which was pretty straightforward and easy to find.
We found that the trail in those 3.2 miles was so obfuscated and obscured, that we were consulting the GPS once every minute or two for about 2.5 miles of that trail stretch. There was only one or two sections that were a couple hundred feet long that didn't require consulting the GPS. It was BAD the way it was totally overgrown with hundreds of thorn bushes, dozens of fallen trees, and trail was terribly neglected and unmarked. No cairns whatsoever.
After we were done with our snack, we started walking down Charouleau Gap road downward toward the west. We were still conserving our water, and only had about 2 liters left each, which on most any cooler day would have been plenty even with a 40 pound backpack. But with the blazing sun and elevated temperatures, it was really stretching the water supply to make 2 liters last 6.4 miles in those conditions with a 40 pound backpack.
The conditions were 89F, very little shade, and we were running low on water, so we were both being overly conservative in drinking our water. We hadn't had anything to eat except for our snack at the trailhead at the Gap.
I was dressed properly for the trail with all the thorny bush overgrowth, but I was not dressed properly for a hot deserty full sun day with a heavy pack. I was wearing heavy bluejeans (ripped in the knees from the thorny bush overgrowth), and a long sleeve light synthetic shirt. I did have a wide brimmed hat to protect my head from the direct sunrays, but it was still very hot. I was sweating profusely in the heat, and should have had shorts and short sleeves on instead in that heat.
On the other hand, Jason, my compatriot on this backpacking trip was wearing the exact right uniform for the desert heat, but not as much for the unexpected thorny, bushy overgrowth that had scraped, scratched and gouged up his legs pretty badly. So we were quite the motly crew.
We thought we would be able to make pretty good time once we got down to the Gap road, especially since it was almost all down hill. We started at 1:15PM down the Gap road, but didn't get to the parking lot on Logo Del Oro parkway until 7:15PM. It seemed like we should have been able to make 2 mph or 3 mph going down a dirt road that was mostly downhill. That was our plan and expectations. But it didn't turn out that way.
Besides the backpack weight and the heat(which was the major limiting factor) as well as our weariness from walking without enough water or food under our belts, the surface of the road was worn smooth and hard by the ATVs and supermodified jeeps and the like, except, there was a very thin layer of ball-bearing like small grit and sand, that made the surface really treacherous to walk on. One had to "stiffen" up one's ankles the entire way, and use the poles to dig into the surface to keep from slipping, since the surface was steeply sloped in much of it's length.
Of course 89F is hot enough, true, but almost bearable if you have a stiff breeze, and no pack, and lots of shade. But in full sun with a 40 pound pack, the 89F ambient temperatures feels like about 110F, and the vast majority of the 6.4 miles was in full sun, not a single cloud in the sky.
There would be a shade tree about once every 0.3 miles, and believe me, we stopped at EVERY ONE for at least a couple of minutes. :-) There was a slight breeze, about 7 mph, which at times was a wonderful thing, to help assist the evaporation of perspiration and hence cool us off a small bit.
Not eating Breakfast was most certainly a mistake, because at about 3:30PM, I hit the wall, and my blood sugar and probably salt was too low, so I stopped under the next shade tree and practically fell down, and had a snack and lie down for about an hour trying to restore my batteries. Jason thought that I should have been taking Electrolyte replacement tablets (salt pills), and that may have been correct, and most certainly we should have eaten each day to keep our blood sugar up to normal levels.
After the hour, the sun had lowered in the sky. It was still hot, but starting to coold down some from the high of about 89F, down to more like 83F at 5PM when I was rested up. I got a second wind, and was good to go the rest of the way, and we finished the remaining 2.5 miles or so at about 7:10PM. The hiking got better as the sun fell below the horizon at about 5:40PM or so, and the air temperature continued to drop to the upper 70's when we completed the walk.
For some very unique reasons, this was a very challenging trail, and to some degree it was my own fault by not taking in enough calories, and purifying more water when we had the chance along the way so we wouldn't have to be so conservative with our drinking of water. My lips were very chapped by the time we got to the car as a result of not drinking enough.
With hiking at about 20 miles distance, we should have been able by hiking from dawn to dusk, easily the distance in two days. but it's not the distance, but rather the quality of the miles that determine how long it takes to cover the route.
We were glad to see the car at about 7:15PM, and I drunk about 2 gallons in less than an hour trying to reclaim my body hydration level.
It was an interesting trip in many ways, but I'm glad to be back home writing to tell you about it rather than hiking across that 89F stretch of 6.4 miles of desert on that third day. It was a genuinely nasty experience. One of my lessons learned is NOT to ever plan any hiking with a 40 pound pack in the desert at temperatures above 70F.
When we got home we had a steak and potatoes dinner, and I was ready for bed after eating, although I stayed up with Sandi until after midnight after getting up at dawn. When I did finally go to bed, I fell asleep when my head hit the pillow.
The next morning, I was delighted to notice that I felt great, with no soreness or anything, except my lips were still chapped, and I needed to do a few stretches to prevent getting any charley horses. I'm just getting over the chapped lips today nearly a week later.
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