|Phone photo from the top of Sugarloaf last weekend: a hazy day over the bay. I have no pictures of the Superstition hike.|
We got a late—a very late—start the day we set out to hike, so we began the climb after noon. It was winter time, but it was also near Pheonix, so I wore jeans and a t-shirt with my dad's old parka tied around my waist. The initial part of the hike was gorgeous and easy, a sloping rise studded with ocotillo and scrub. But behind rose a wall of rock, splitting the ground like the cracked and stained teeth of a giant devil's lower jaw. The trail ascended sharply, and we skittered over and around boulders, jumped over crevices, and carefully made our way up the siphon, the almost-bare stone slide spattered ever-so-dangerously with gravel that could send us shuttling to broken bones, or worse. I hurt and breathed hard. My brother taught me how to get my body and my breathing in a rhythm so I could hurt less.
We reached the top of Flatiron around 3:30pm, and my brother shimmied up an impossible-looking rock spire to get an even better view. I tucked against the spire to eat a tangerine and hide from the angry wind. As if I sat on the edge of a giant layer cake, the stone slipped down at what appeared to be a 90 degree angle from where I perched. The view crumbed away, infinite, wondrous.
Though I had wrapped up in the old coat on the top, I began to warm as we headed down, and I tied it around my waist again. It took us less time to go down than go up, but we were still racing against the setting sun of a short winter day. As the sun sank, so did the temperature, but I sweated with exertion. This time I skittered down the siphon like a crab, low to the ground, and in the grey, we had to be careful on narrow ledges. We passed only two hikers in the first part of our hike down; they were heading up. When we made it about halfway down, we encountered a twenty-something woman sitting, knees held to her chest against the gathering cold. She wore shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. Blisters glistened under the edges of her shoes' straps. Even in the dusk, I could tell she had pale skin and dark hair. We greeted her.
|Phone photo: I took the less steep way down Sugarloaf.|
Clearly set on waiting alone, she waved us off as we continued down the mountain. Soon, we were in the deep dark, our only light the desert night sky. As the trail eased up towards the bottom of the mountain, we nearly trotted along, knowing our mother must be fretting with us on the trail after dark. And, we were right: by the time we called our mom to let her know we were safe and at the car, my mom had already called the rangers to alert them that we were inexperienced night hikers still on the trail, and my dad was in his car heading our way.
|Phone photo: in San Juan Canyon at the base of Sugarloaf.|
The girl on the mountain may not have wanted our water or tangerines or company, but what she needed, at the very least, was the old parka. If I took that hike today, I'd come down without a coat.