Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Superstition Ride - - -Day 4 (the sun has its say)

We are covering ground at a very decent clip. Silas has started to range ahead with Ingrid riding behind him. I figure he's looking for places to hole up in case we have to stop. The sun has risen above the canyon walls, and even though we are going downhill and making great time it feels like we're gaining a few degrees every minute. Across Sally's back I can see that Eva is starting to turn a pretty bright pink. She's good about keeping her water intake steady, and pink isn't a danger color. If she starts to turn a deeper red, if she stops sweating, those are signs that the body is starting to shut down vital systems in order to try and cool the internal organs.

The bantering and talking has pretty much died out. It's coming down to putting full concentration into putting one foot after the other. One problem with going downhill is that it gets hotter faster as we lose altitude. Schatzie asks me if it's time to switch out riders and I say that it's probably a good idea. When I reach down to swing Eva up behind me I notice that her arm feels hot and dry. When she leans into me I can feel the heat radiating off of her. I remind her to take a good drink and then have her pour some water over her head. It will only stay wet for a few minutes, but any cooling at the point is a good thing. I look for Silas and see nothing. I tell Schatzie and Hans that I am going ahead to try and find Silas. I tell her to keep Sally checked down and not to let her pull them along too fast. I bring Rosalita up to an easy jog and follow the plain tracks of Ban Fai. About a half mile down the trail I see the tracks veer off into a side canyon. I look behind and see that Schatzie, Hans and Sally are easily in sight. I dismount and put a trail marker of stones pointing the turn to take down and start to lead Rosalita and Eva down the side canyon. We're in a more narrow canyon fork, there's pretty decent sand and I figure it for a monsoon runoff channel. The tracks are deep and easy to follow.

About another four hundred yards brings me to a small pool of water, and Ban Fai, with no sign of Silas and Ingrid. I give a sharp whistle and listen for a response. There is a ledge that is about 20 feet up the face of the canyon. Damned near invisible from the ground. Silas pokes his head over and smiles. He says "We got shade, and sweet water up here, where are the others?" I tell him that they are further down the trail, that Eva is starting into shock and needs to get out of the sun right now. I ask him how he got up there. He says that there is a run off channel going to the head of the canyon and that it is about the width of a sidewalk and pretty easy climbing. I follow his pointing finger to where we should go. I grab a water bag and take Eva to where it begins. By the time we get there I see Silas and Ingrid coming down to help her up. I go back to Rosalita, snatch up Ban Fai's lead, and head back down to the main trail. I arrive just as Schatzie and Hans are making the turn. I tell them that Silas has found us a place to hole up to wait out the worst of the sun and they both begin to perk up. I tell Schatzie to hop up on Ban Fai and help Hans to swing up behind me.

When we get back to the others Schatzie is a big help again helping me to take care of the horses. Hans helps to carry the panniers and water bags up the steep incline and I see that Silas has found a pretty decent cave. The canyon walls through here are studded with them. They helped many an Apache elude cavalry patrols or pissed off possees. The water in most of them has filtered through sandstone, limestone, or both and is usually sweet and safe without having to do any treatment. When we all get inside and I hang my lantern we can see that there is a pretty wide sheet of water coming down slowly on one of the cave walls. This comes to a place that was obviously gouged out by humans to form a nice 8" deep pool. The water is deliciously cold. Silas and are giving tips to the Germans on how to take a wet cloth and put it around the neck and under the armpits to help speed the cooldown. When it appears that all are settling in and nobody's in any danger I grab the satphone from the pannier and say that I'm going to go check on the horses.

It wasn't all bullshit. I really did have some stuff to do for the horses. I take some dirt from around the place and help them to make mudcoats to stay cool. Sally is already starting to browse but she's happy to get a licorice bit.

I call the satphone for the God of All Ropers and am relieved to hear that he's been on the trail for a while now. That he is bringing ample water and, be still my heart, an ice chest with some melons and Gatorade. I tell him about us holing up in our little side canyon and he says that it was probably the most prudent thing to have done. He says that the mules he's got pulling won't give a damn about the weather and that all should be well. We figure between us that there is about ninety minutes before he reaches the turnoff to us. I go back up to the others and think, Great, I think I'll grab me some sleep.

Just as I am coming into the cave I hear Silas telling the Germans that everything is going to be just fine. He tells them that a "mother hen" like me wouldn't have even tried to walk out without a backup plan or two. I break down and tell them about the cavalry wagon being on the way and the mood instantly elevates.

I go back away from the cavemouth and find a nice little shelf. It might be the work of people. I ask Silas if there are any stories about this particular cave and he says no. He just remembered that it was here, had sweet water and lots of shade.

Schatzie comes over to where I am and is wanting to talk about her experience in the sweat lodge. I remind her that it is something that is supposed to be kept inside for at least a full week, but that if she really needs to talk she should be talking to Silas about it because he led the sweat. She appears so crestfallen that it gives me an idea.

I ask Silas and the Germans if they would all like to come out to my place in a week. To swim, eat, and celebrate our coming together and our getting out alive. They think this is a wonderful idea. I tell them to please feel free to bring guests, that we will put on a real old west shindig for them.

Then I remind them, and myself, that I didn't get any sleep last night and since help is on the way and won't come any faster by my staying awake I would like to take a short nap.

I'm asleep before I know whether or not they respond to this.



Blogger Sherry said...

and did you dream then too?

6:28 PM  
Blogger BadTux said...

Ooh, I remember that heat coming down from the high valley. One day in late September I broke camp before dawn, but by the time I got down to my pickup truck it was 108F outside according to the thermometer on my dash (which goes to a sensor under the front fender and is pretty accurate) and I was sweating faster than I could absorb the water that I'd drank. I don't think people who've never experienced it understand temperatures that hot very well. Once the temperature goes above 105F, it doesn't matter that it's a "dry heat" (as the saying goes). It feels like a freakin' furnace. Especially once it hits 110F. If you're not well acclimated to the heat, it can kill you even if you do everything right insofar as staying hydrated, wearing a nice wide-brimmed sun hat, etc.

Incidentally, for other folks dealing with unexpected heat, I was carrying almost 2 gallons of water for the 8 mile hike (which I averaged 1.5 miles per hour on, while carrying around 35 pounds and taking my time), and needed them, and did not begrudge the 15 pounds of water one bit even though I was humping every bit of it on my back. Not just to drink. To occasionally rub a little on my hands and slap on my cheeks and ears to produce more evaporative cooling. The important thing is to keep your brain from baking, and the cheeks and ears seem to be filled with blood vessels that, when cooled down, can take an unbearable situation and make it bearable. Even with that trick, I was feeling the beginnings of heat exhaustion by the time I got down to the bottom.

I don't think it's strictly legal to take a Conestoga wagon up there where the God of All Ropers took it (indeed, it's amazing he could even do so, given all the washouts of the old road and the concrete-mounted steel posts at the non-wilderness end), but I'm sure that in a search-and-rescue scenario there can be exceptions made. Not that any rangers will be up there this time of year anyhow. They're not crazy!

BTW, that must have been a long nap, if you didn't get out until sunset... or else you were farther back than I thought from your descriptions (which are deliberately vague I know to protect the places you talk about, but I think I recognized some of them from my own explorations). Which is possible, I suppose. I sometimes deliberately misdirect people too when I feel the correct info may get them too close to some place they do not need to be.

For people intent upon hiking into the desert -- even on a day hike, take at least a map, compass, and GPS, as well as a lot of water. Drink water regularly. Once you've drank half your water, turn around and go home using the "backtrace" option on your GPS. The Germans are damned lucky someone found them, because else they'd be like the German tourists that disappeared in Death Valley around 20 years ago. They've never been found. We suspect that their bones are sitting under the gravel in some wash somewhere, having been cleaned well by coyotes and other predators, scattered, then buried under a flash flood. I don't know what it is about Germans and deserts, they seem to love deserts (indeed they flock to Death Valley during the summertime when no one sane goes anywhere near the place), but they don't seem to exhibit any common sense about deserts...

And I meander self-importantly. Sigh. Penguins.

- Badtux the Verbose Penguin

12:27 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

we were pretty far back. we also were along an alternate trail for most of the trip back. we bypassed the ranch completely. according to the rangers (who you can call but almost never see) the vehicle prohibition is against motorized vehicles. wagons be alright as long as they gots no motors. (there is a sherrif joe sponsored trek that uses covered wagons and about 10 cows to keep our kids off drugs every year). the final trek out was about a 18 mile push.

even people who aren't germans or foreign make huge mistakes with the desert. i can usually expect at least two calls into the superstitions on search and rescue riding. the nature of the geography can be confusing if you don't know the place intimately. (or are smart enough to pack GPS gear, and i'm with you, it's a must, not optional, not a choice, take it)

with some common sense and some planning the desert can be a beautiful place. but, don't expect mercy or concern with the beauty. at best it is indifferent. at worst the rescue folks will be riding to a column of buzzards.

7:04 AM  

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