Friday, April 14th, 2023, 0640-1920
Under The Horn S5 to end of Swap Canyon
26 miles, elevation 5150′
I was warm all night until about 4 am, when some squalls passed through. Maybe they started before that but I was asleep. The wind really picked up and I heard the pitter patter of rain then sleet then snow. It didn’t sound like much so I was really surprised when I woke to my alarm to find my tent walls heavily misshapen. My half-working brain thought a stake had pulled loose in the wind. But no, it was something else. A few shakes and punches deposited piles of snow all around me. Outside the ground was covered by about 2 to 3 inches. Snow on the heels of 80 degree days, yeah that makes sense. This trail is trying to kill me, I thought for the umpteenth time.
I was very reluctant to emerge from my burrow, my brief hibernation. I thought the storms were going to rage on through the morning and didn’t want to hike through a blizzard. But to my great surprise, the sky was clearing. I greeted one of the most dazzling mornings. I donned my neoprene socks and my odd assortment of lightweight thru-hiking clothing, which seemed to be just enough for comfort. In fact, I’d forgotten what a joy walking in fresh snow can be.
It was such a beautiful morning and I was having so much fun embracing my inner elf… reference to Legolas as he easily glides over the snow while the rest of the party struggles in The Fellowship of the Ring. I conjured my best Laska Longleaf (self-assigned elf name), enabling up to 10 steps floating over the snow before I’d drive a leg through the crust. Stellar labored, being a good 50 lbs or more heavier. I taunted him, calling him first Gimli then Boromir. At one point I called him an orc and he started chasing me, waving his arms. I tried to run but was laughing so hard, I lost my elf charm and sank waist deep. It’s great that we can have fun even in challenging conditions.
We made it to Pennellan pass and knew it was all downhill from there; that we’d be in the clear in soon. I was actually sad to see the snow go because then we had to walk in dog-crap mud. It sticks to your shoes in huge clumps, making them feel like 10 lb bricks. But we had a very awesome distraction when I spotted some huge beasts about 100 yards away. I’d heard about the wild bison that roamed the Henries but never read an account of any Hayduke hiker actually seeing one. But here they were, right off the road! At first we could only see about 17 but it was a heard of over 30. We watched them eating and grunting for a bit. They must have bad eyesight because I was sure they saw us early on but much later they seemed to smell us and sound a silent alarm. They moved off and that’s when we noted just how big the herd was.
I’ve only ever seen bison in the wild on Catalina Island, so this was a real treat. We turned to resume hiking and noticed about 25 mule deer standing even closer, looking at us as if we were the attraction. We were surrounded by large ungulates and started to feel insecure. Just 2 lonely bipeds in a place we didn’t belong. We walked down the road to a junction with another and were finally back on the main route. Then we had to walk up a big hill to Tarantula Mesa. Down then up, all in the crappy mud still. It was hard work, this after struggling in the snow for hours. I felt pretty exhausted when reached a water collection tank on the mess, ready to take an early lunch and dry my tent.
Just as I got my tent out, a cloud obstructed the sun. It had been such a nice, peaceful morning that I’d totally forgotten the forecast had called for a chance of precipitation until noon. I’d noticed a rain shower to the north and that it had gotten bigger and closer. I packed my stuff, suddenly anxious to keep going. I was listening to a podcast when I heard a rumble in the background. I looked at the storm and saw a flash. Are you kidding me! Now there was a thunderstorm about to hit us on the exposed mesa. We were surrounded by nothing more than sagebrush. I started jogging, trying to reach a stand of juniper and pinon. Just as I was less than a minute away, grauple (snow pellets) started raining down. I put up my umbrella and took cover under a pine. There was another close rumble and then nothing but the patter of the grauple. I tasted one and it reminded me of a dip and dot with no flavor. After 15 minutes, the ground was once again white and the sun was out.
The afternoon had more fun, going down the steep side of Tarantula Mesa in the one spot that was manageable. The slope was very chossy but we made it down pretty fast. Then there was some convoluted navigation along and under the bluffs. We dropped into a canyon on an alternate and found some water. We grew tired of figuring out that alternate, so followed a cow path over to another alternate then to the red line. We found footsteps to follow, which allowed us to turn our brains off for a bit. Eventually we were in Swap Canyon, following a wash, which requires the least brain power. We found some more running water and then a minor side wash for the night. It had been a long and hard day with lots of weather variety and drama. We were happy to be down in the warm canyon, protected by the tight wash walls, just wide enough for our tents.