A Solo Hike Through the Sky Islands and Deserts of the Arizona Trail

2002. The Countryman Press.

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"paints a revealing picture of some of the people, places and wildlife that make up the desert state..... By the end he had me engrossed, and I didn't want the journey to end". Andrew Terrill. TGO.


When I set off early the next morning I had just a pint of water left. Above me rose 6,612foot Buckhorn Mountain. In theory the trail went over the summit. In reality the trail had ceased to exist except for small, infuriating, overgrown traces that quickly disappeared. The climb was a desperately hot sweaty scrabble up steep, loose ground and through sharp spiny undergrowth that scratched my legs and tore at my clothes. It took one and a half hours and a great deal of water loss. I reached the summit sweat-soaked and very thirsty. Trickles of blood ran down my arms and legs. My mood was one of aggravation and worry. I cursed the bush and the mountain. Damn the thorns. Damn the rocks. Bloody awkward things. What the hell was I doing here anyway? And where was I going to find any water on this godforsaken mountain?

Suddenly the negative feelings were swept away in a rush of wings. A magnificent bald eagle, its white head shining in the sunlight, drifted over the ridge just fifty feet away and landed on a dead tree. I felt transformed. As I thrashed my way uphill I'd forgotten why I was here and what I was doing. I just wanted the climb to be over. The eagle took me out of myself, out o my self-pity and anger, and I once again saw the magic of the world around me. Why worry about being a bit thirsty? Why care about aching limbs, the sweat and blood running down my legs, the many miles to water? To be here high on a mountain ridge watching a glorious eagle soar past was what it was all about. The effort, the pain required to get here heightened the experience. I looked around. Tremendous views spread out on every side. I had that on-top-ofthe-world feeling common to mountaineers, whether they hike up a trail or climb steep ice cliffs. A burst of adrenaline and elation stripped away my worries.

From the summit the remnants of the trail were easier to follow as it ran along Buckhorn Ridge toward the impressive, steep, rocky east face of Four Peaks Mountain. Although the ridge is mostly above six thousand feet the four great rock pyramids of the mountain still looked massive as they rose to 7,657 feet on Brown's Peak, the northernmost and highest summit. The mountain, protected in the Four Peaks Wilderness Area, lies at the southern end of the Mazatzal Mountains, which I would traverse over the next five days. This wilderness is supposed to have the densest population of black bears in Arizona, though I saw no signs of them.

Four Peaks Mountain dominated the view, drawing me on along the ridge toward its huge buttresses and deep gullies. To the south the Superstitions were smaller now, slowly fading away in distance and time, already part of my past. To the west, the organized, straight lines on the edge of Phoenix could be seen, far below and far away-rigid, regimented, another world.

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