I'm going to squeeze in my third hike of the day here at Chiricahua National Monument. You know, because my time here is limited and there's plenty of other hikes here to save for next time.
This one will be the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail. The one highlighted in yellow. A relatively straightforward trail up the lower end of Rhyolite Canyon and, hopefully, back down again.
OK, OK. By the time I finished the Massai Point Nature Trail and the Echo Canyon Loop hike, drove back down the mountain to my campsite, and hiked the half mile to the Lower Rhyolite trailhead, which is at the visitor center, this wasn't so much a hike as it was a race.
But what can I say? In a moment of male-inspired simple-mindedness I totally succumbed to the egocentric siren call of checking off one more goal just so I could say I did it, despite the fast-approaching sunset.
Yes, yes, I understand the apparent hypocrisy of attempting this hike just after spouting off about the need for hikers, especially solo hikers, to take responsibility, but let me point out that I am taking responsibility. Instead of relying on the sheer dumb-luck of stumbling across somebody out there so I can ask if this is the way to the parking lot or calling for help if I get myself stuck, as always I'm carrying the tools needed to keep hiking after dark, and even the equipment and clothes necessary to hunker down where I am and wait for daylight if I have to. By planning for eventualities like this not only am I prepared, but because I think about what can go wrong, it's less likely to go wrong. (At least it seems that way to me since I have a lot of just-in-case things in my pack that I've never had to use for real, just for practice.)
Besides, none of us can guarantee we will even have a next time, and at my age by the time I get around to the next time there's a good chance I won't be as active or have the stamina I do today. At least that's the excuse I'm using right now to justify this ego-driven last hike of the day.
The visitor center end of the Lower Rhyolite Canyon Trail is a bucolic take-the-family-out-for-a-picnic setting there under the trees alongside the creek,
but in it's mile and a half length (one way)
this trail climbs just about 600 feet
|Yep, if you let your eyes adjust to the shadows, there's a trail there.|
as it heads up through forest along the south flank of Rhyolite Canyon to where the Sarah Deming Canyon, and trail, splits off to the south.
But the sun is getting low and I only have an hour and a half before it sets on me all together.
That means, if I give myself a 10 minute "safety" cushion, I absolutely have to turn around in 40 minutes, even if I haven't made it to the other end of the trail, so I need to get a move on.
Compared to my normal hiking pace of as little as one mile per hour, I'm going to have to really hustle, definitely making this last hike of the day, one more than is perhaps prudent, more about ego than experiencing the area.
But, in an homage to ego, I was determined to make it and set the timer on my phone and set off.
The big question is, after a full day of hiking already, do I have it in me to climb 600 more feet in 1.5 miles before the countdown ticks off to zero?
And even if I manage that, I still have to make it back down that same mile and a half in another 40 minutes if I'm going to avoid getting caught out here after sunset. And though I carry a headlamp with spare batteries at all times when hiking, I really don't want to have to use it. . . (True, once down I still have a half mile to go to get back to the campsite, but I can do that on the road and walking a road after dark is much easier than a trail.)
I mean, have you ever hiked in pitch-black down an unfamiliar trail with nothing but a little pool of red light to hold back the scary monsters that are out there?! I have, for practice, and it can be - well - scary! (The white mode of a headlamp casts a wider, brighter pool of light, but that just makes it scarier by taking away any semblance of night-vision.)
But right now I've got daylight to work with.
Right now being the operative words.
As I climb I'm keeping a close eye on those shadows across there on the other side of the canyon.
The speed at which they are lengthening is worrisome. So worrisome I spend some of my precious time rechecking the almanac on my phone, which just barely has a signal here, to verify that I got the time of sunset right.
I did, but I clearly need to get a move on . . .
After a ridiculously fast trip up the trail, which my body handled much better than I expected, though I have to admit there might have been a touch of adrenaline fueling me along, I made it to the upper end of Lower Rhyolite Trail with 3 minutes and a few odd seconds to spare before reaching my have-to-turn-back time.
Lower Rhyolite Trail is sort of the gateway to hiking the higher elevations of Chiricahua and there's a lot going on at it's upper end.
So much so that it takes a total of three
trail signs, 9 if you count by planks, to spell it all out.
This is as good a time as any to point out that the park offers a free shuttle service for hikers.
For much of the year they run a van from the visitor center up to the Echo Canyon and Massai Point trailheads. This way most of your actual boots-on-the-ground hiking will be downbound and you will only pass this point where I'm standing now once.
You would think the summer months, when they don't run the shuttle, would be the time it's most useful because riding the shuttle up eliminates most of the upbound hiking in the heat, but I don't make the policies.
To make sure you get a seat you need to sign up for the shuttle the day before at the visitor center. (And if nobody signs up they don't run.)
This is a nice idea, but the shuttle run isn't until 0900, which is a late start for someone like me who is ready to hit the trails at sunrise. . .
But now the issue is not sunrise, but rather sunset.
I've burned up my 10 minutes of cushion-time taking photos of the trail signs and catching my breath, and now the sun is so low the shadows of those rocks over on the other side of the canyon are running up the canyon wall
so, after a wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am kinda visit, I need to get myself back down off this mountain!
What the hell was I thinking?! is what I wondered as my legs ached and my lungs heaved. Instead of speed-walking down this mountain with 25 pounds of gear on my back in the fading light I could have been kicked back in a comfortable chair at camp with some cheese & crackers and a good book!
OK, no pictures, (I tried but it was too dark for my somewhat basic camera) but on the final stroll from Visitor Center to campsite, down the trail rather than the road because there was still enough twilight, even under the trees, to see where I was putting my feet, I was reminded of exactly what I was thinking when I discovered I was sharing the space with two does and a buck. Though it was too dark to tell if they were Whitetails or Mule, for a few moments we peacefully coexisted there in Bonita Canyon.
Sorry Sargento and Ritz, but that beats cheese & crackers in camp any day.