I arrived at the barren Juniper Basin campground, nearly seven miles from the trailhead, to have my pick of campsites. I was the only one there. By this point, I was at about 6,000 feet in elevation and there were patches of snow just starting to appear. There was a small stream near the campsite, with just enough running water for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. There was also an outhouse, bear boxes (bears in the desert!), and fire pits. My goal for the following day was to hike to the summit of Mica Mountain at 8,666 feet. This was an ambitious goal, as getting there involved a round trip hike of nearly 20 miles.
That night, the winds were some of the hardest I have ever experienced in the backcountry. As I understand it, over 60 mile per hour winds were whipping through the mountains. I could hear the wind coming before it smacked into my tent. The next morning, after a breakfast of soup and dried peas, I readied myself for the long day ahead. Because it was the middle of December, I was dealing with one of the very shortest days of the year. Daylight was certainly at a premium. I was also leery about starting too early because of the weather and running into any potential predators, specifically mountain lions, which are known to frequent the area.
It was beautiful day and I encountered just a few small hang-ups along the way. Specifically, around the area of Tanque Verde Peak, where I lost sight of the trail and spent close to a half hour trying to find it. That incident set me back a bit. The snow got deep as well, and it was quite a different scene when I arrived at Manning Camp.
I want interrupt here for just a brief moment and apologize for not having any pictures. I checked my old hard drive earlier today and cannot find the images from this trip. Anyway, Manning Camp is a high camp used by the park service as a backcountry HQ. It is located at about 8,000 feet near a number of intersecting trails.
I knew I didn’t have far to go to get to the summit, just 1.4 miles and in the end I decided to be prudent and turn around so I could get back before dark. This part of the story reminds me of an image I took of an eight point buck just lying in the snow, not 25 feet from the trai. It didn’t even flinch when it saw me coming. It just laid there and chilled. So cool! I’d love to share it with you, oh well…not today I guess. Anyway, I arrived back at camp safely an hour before dark, fueling skepticism in my mind that I could have summited the mountain and returned safely in time. No matter, I really didn’t want to potentially cross paths with a mountain lion at dusk anyway.
To my surprise, there was one other adventurous soul setting up camp upon my return….to be continued on the next post.