I wake on and off and wonder if it’s time to hike. At 6:40 we open our eyes for real and are surprised to see the late hour. The sun has been up for an hour at least and what are we doing? Snoozing like there’s nowhere to go.
We make a plan to be up and hiking by 7:30AM. I try to eat my cereal and protein powder milk as fast as possible, to chug the cold brew I packed out, to put clothes on and stuff all of my small things into small sacks for my pack. By the time all is said and done, we walk away from our camp at 8:15, wondering where the time went.
We think we’re going to Ford a river, but when we approach it’s really more of a lake than a stream. We walk around it, then cross some ankle deep water and ….that’s it! Nothing so dramatic as a ford.
We climb. We climb up rocky red slopes, up great boulders and tiny pebbles and sand. I feel nauseous again, wonder if I have an ulcer and slowly mince upward, watching Carrot’s graceful stride up the mountain. She is but a speck, and I am concentrating on not gagging while I climb. A cool breeze chases me and I am grateful that I’m nauseous as fuck but at least I’m not nauseous in the heat.
The animal trail I’ve been following peters out, I consult my GPS and can see that I’m off the line. I grumpily try to cut back to it, refusing to backtrack and retrace my steps, and climb over prickly pear and under cats claw branches. I slide my way down some giant slick boulders. I walk and I walk and I really don’t seem to be getting much closer to the track I’m supposed to be on, when it occurs to me that I can use the topo lines to make my way— I don’t have to be aiming myself toward an idea of a line and hoping for the best.
I can see that I need to be aiming for the saddle above me. I retrace my steps back to the slick bolder I carefully stepped down and when I go to climb back up I can see that there are no real handles to grab onto, no real steps for my feet.
I tell myself that I hand and footed my way down this boulder, I can get back up. I toss my poles up just above me, feel my way up the sides of the red rock, and look for a crevasse to wedge my hand, promising to accept even the tiniest outcrop for my foot. I find both, eventually, and I know I just need two more of each to get back up toward stable ground. I slide my hand up again, and eventually, there’s a hook for my fingers. I commit to wedging my foot hard into the nothingness that will be my step, and somehow it sticks. I feel my my way up the boulder again, almost to the top now, and look down for just a second. What the fuck am I doing here? Climbing a boulder in the middle of red rock desert with no one around for probably miles? My left leg starts shaking violently and I lose my grip, sliding back down from where I started from. My poles come crashing down on my face as soon as I hit the ground.
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!!!!!! I scream to no one. Ringing silence meets me.
I am scratched with raspberries of blood dotting my knees, elbows, shins and stomach. I almost had it, I’m convinced I almost had it. I know where I have to be to get on track, it’s just a few hundred feet up. If I can get above this bolder it’ll be low and gentle cross country to the trail and it’ll be easy enough from there. Easier than this, I think. Easier than fake bouldering with absolutely no skills or experience. I toss my poles up, repeat the same exact choreography of arms and legs, and again, I slide right back down.
I am going to throw up. My breath starts to quicken and I weigh my options. In my slow stupor I’d shooed Carrot away hours ago and she is surely very far along the trail, and I am even further from that. I could call for help, but I’ve seen no footprints and when I listen hard I hear only profound quiet. There are helicopters, is this a helicopter situation? I start to cry and I can feel myself on an edge, this close to panic. I rip myself back.
No. A voice says from deep inside. You are not going to panic yet.
Here are some facts the voice inside gives to me: it is early, only 11AM. It’s not hot. I have three liters of water, and a lot of food. I have service and I can text Carrot and wait. I have service and if things become dire I can actually call a helicopter.
And besides the voice says. You’re pack is making you too heavy to pull yourself up.
I drink some water, steady my breathing, and take my pack off, tossing it above with my poles. I tell myself I will not look down, that I’m bored of standing here just a few hundred feet from where I’m supposed to be and I hurdle myself up, as fast as possible; no stopping allowed. When I land on bloody hands and knees next to my pack and my poles, finally away from my place just below where I wanted to be, I sob.
What the fuck, Muffy. What in the actual fuck.
I walk in a daze, cramming vegan cheez-itz into my mouth and crying. The terrain is gentle, I find the trail easily using the topo lines, and my body is moving in the right direction, which is kind of all that matters. I feel fried though, deeply exhausted by the stress of my morning and by the time I reach a cow pound, just 6 trail miles in, I could collapse.
I think about stopping but I want to see Carrot, want to hug her and make jokes with her and let her soothe me in her way. She’s left me a note at the cow pound, it says she waited for half an hour but is heading on, she’ll meet me at the next water source in another five miles.
I commit to the next five miles and fly down cattle trails, drinking and eating while I walk instead of taking a lunch break. My whole body aches, my shirt is torn and I am bleeding. Just two miles later I see Carrot’s pack poking out from a sycamore tree and I whoop. CARROT!!!!!! I am SO FUCKING HAPPY to see CARRRROTTTT!
I show Carrot my wounds. She rubs my back and listens sympathetically, we game plan for how to check in from here on out to keep us close together. It starts hailing gently while we sit, almost snowflake like pebbles, except it is 70 degrees, dry everywhere and sunny so nothing is sticking. A storm is threatening, though, a dark grey cloud headed our way, surrounded by only blue sky.
Time to walk we say, zipping up rain jackets and putting on shoes as quick as we can.
It’s the desert man. Never really can tell what’s about to happen.
📍The Mogollon Rim trail is on Yavapai, Western Apache, Hopi and Hohokum land. I am a grateful guest.