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First Steps in the First Wilderness Part 5: Early July

Monday, July 8th, 2019: First Steps in the First Wilderness, Trips, Wildfire.

When I returned to the high wilderness in July, our monsoon was officially late. Hot, dry weather had intensified since June, with maybe a slight, tantalizing drizzle once a week, in the middle of the night.

But clouds were forming, and thunderstorms were producing rain nearby. I hoped that if I headed over to the peaks in the west, I might get lucky. And while driving up the highway, I did see a few fluffy clouds floating over the peaks ahead.

The canyon was even more of a jungle than before, and there was still a little stream flow from winter’s snowmelt on the peaks. New flowers were blooming to add to those I’d found before, fresh bear scat littered the entire trail, and birds were busy as ever. Gnats were especially annoying, and my energy came and went throughout the hike, so that in some stretches I had to stop and rest frequently, while in others I just powered my way up the steepest grades. I’m starting to learn that I need to take plenty of high-energy snacks and gulp them down regularly, instead of relying on a meal from hours ago.

During the climb, dark clouds covered half the sky above me, while the other half showed patches of blue. I couldn’t tell whether storms were moving toward me or away, but it was all beautiful, and with frequent shade the air stayed cool. I felt better on the upper stretch of trail and decided to go all the way to the crest, because the payoff here is the views at the very top.

On the way down, I decided to investigate the spring located just below Holt Peak, which dominates this stretch of the trail. I’d always thought it unusual to find a spring near a peak, but it sits on a steep slope above the trail, and I could see a cast-concrete spring box up there and figured it might be piped, so I hadn’t actually investigated it before. This time, I traversed across the slope of loose rock and deep pine needles, and discovered it’s a natural spring that simply drips out of a shallow bank on the hillside.

Normally I’m very careful about treating groundwater. But with no sign that this mountaintop had ever been grazed by livestock, and little chance that backpackers had ever camped above this spring since the trail bypasses it for more obvious destinations, I decided to have a drink. It was ice-cold, and delicious! It suddenly occurred to me that this was my best hike yet in this wilderness. My body was holding up well, the weather was great – I was still holding out hope for a storm – and I was drinking from the mountain, an experience that is always precious.

Sure enough, as I dropped down into the big side canyon, the dark clouds moved over, and a few drops began to fall. And when I reached the bottom, and the junction with the main canyon, rain began to fall in earnest, lightning struck somewhere nearby, and long avalanches of thunder began, lasting and reverberating between the canyon walls for many minutes.

I stopped, pulled my military surplus poncho out of my pack, and replaced it with my hat. But then the rain stopped and I was left carrying the poncho down the canyon.

Finally, about halfway down the canyon, a long spell of rain began and I donned my poncho. Even after the rain stopped, twenty minutes later, the air was cool and I kept it on, hoping for more rain later.

Sure enough, just as I reached the wilderness boundary a half mile from the trailhead, it really started pouring! My dream came true…

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