Who you meet on the trail…..

The full moon was on the 4th of November 2017 and three of us set out for an overnight at Hutches Pools. We rode the tram (kinda cheating) up to the top from the parking area of Sabino Canyon. Off the tram we were with backpacks strapped on and then hiked in the rest of way. Gwen and I had first gone to Hutches Pools two years ago as our “shake-out trip” for the John Muir Trail. We had purchased all our gear for our 210-mile thru-hike, but we had yet to use it so Mother’s Day we hiked in as a gift to ourselves and spent the night. We were familiar with Sabino Canyon. Our favorite tough hike is Blackett’s which is 1.7 miles long situated off Phoneline Trail. In its short 1.7 miles to the end of Blackett’s the elevation gain is 1700’. That trail offers the most bang for the buck of a workout. Phoneline is just a nice, long trail with splendid views of the canyon where you can see folks walking the road, the tram traveling up and down it and the creek flowing in the monsoon season and after rainfall or snow-melt. Sabino Canyon’s most popular water hole trail is Seven Falls that meanders across the creek 7 times before climbing a few switch backs to get to the mid-section of the canyon wall and continue to hike up the canyon to the end where water run-off is spectacular if you time it right and it’s refreshing if nothing else. Until my first trip to Hutches Pools I thought Seven Falls was the greatest in the canyon, but you can’t camp there, and you can at Hutches. So off we went to seek a quiet bright night lit by the full moon.

The some of the trail to Hutches Pool is part of the Arizona Trail that leads north from the Mexican border reaching all the way to the Utah state line. The first time Gwen and I hiked it we ran into an ultra-light hiker who was standing near a ‘y’ in the trail. We asked him where he was going as we were passing by and he replied “Utah”. Wow! We thought he’d say Hutches Pools or back to Sabino Canyon, but nope…. he was in route to Utah. That was cool. I think that might have been our first experience with a thru-hiker on a trail. We were going to be thru-hikers come that July, but we needed to do an overnight first to test our gear so up the trail we continued. Hutches Pools offers a tranquil beauty of a fresh deep pool surrounded by rocks and the opening has a small sandy beach. For our first experience overnight in our new tents, quilts and backpacks at Hutches was perfect so revisiting it was a welcomed reprieve from the city as it is so close and yet so remote. The three of us were excited to spend a Saturday hanging in our hammocks prior to the full moon. A few other friends wanted a day hike, so they hiked in with us, ate their snacks with us and then headed back as we found comfort in our hammocks.

We rested a while and then decided to set up our tents. With fall in full swing dark comes early, around 630. That meant ‘back-packers midnight’. So, all three of same brand orange back packer’s tents were set up in camp that was a bit off the trail and a walk to the actual pools. Gwen and I had found a spot we liked and returned to the same one because we had a huge boulder as wind protection, it sat near a stream (not flowing in November) and we sat back off the trail so if there were to be other hikers at Hutches Pools they wouldn’t be coming through our camp. We had eaten our snacks and our lunch, walked up to the pools and took pictures, set our camp and as the sun was starting to set we made our diners. The feeling of being out in the middle of no-where with everything you need carried in our backs and no noise pollution of civilization set the mood for relaxation and enjoyment. Luckily, our group was the only pool visitors that day, other than the two distance runners who quickly ran to the pool, rested, and returned to the trail to run back to Sabino Canyon. The little paradise was all ours to enjoy.

We all made our dinner and ate with our sporks. We were chatting and listening with gaps of quietness in our conversation. Dinner was cleaned up quick and the sun had fully set. The moon had yet to completely rise so a cast of darkness was coming through the canyon. We settled back in our hammocks to await the moon rise but as time passed and the moon had yet to rise above the canyon walls we all decided we were too tired to wait and we should go to bed. As we were getting ready to bed down we brushed our teeth and situated our belongings I looked up and saw a headlamp come through the trees not where usual traffic would be off the trail. I was startled and realized my bear spray laid in my tent which was now between me and the person in the dark walking straight into our camp. My best response was to say “hello?” only to be answered by a tired and anxious males voice also saying “hello?”.

He stumbled into our camp with what appeared to be exhaustion and asked if he was at Hutches Pools. We said “yes”. I asked, “where did you hike in from?”

He responded, “from the top of the Catalinas up by Summerhaven ski resort.”

“What time did you start?”

He replied with a sigh of relief “8 a.m. this morning. Is there a spot for me to camp around here?”

We all answered at once “Yes”. And then decided it would be best to guide him to the pools in the dark with our headlamps and solar lanterns to make is easier to see and show him a spot near the water a distance from our camp. He was thankful for our attention and we all said good night as we left him taking his back pack off in the dark by himself.

The three of us chatted about him. Brenda was worried about him as he looked like an older gentleman all by himself, but Gwen and I both agreed he had probably been hiking and backpacking since he was a youth.

It was now back-packer’s midnight and we each crawled into our tents into our bedrolls that sat on top of our sleeping pads and we waited for sleep.

Of course, we all were fast asleep before the moon rose but as usual I had to get up to pee in the middle of the night, or I thought it was still night. When I rolled out of my tent and stood up I was amazed as to how bright the dark had become with the moon hanging high in the sky. It looked as bright as day. Wow. That was beautiful. I did my normal squat and crawled back into bed. I had to put my quilt over my eyes to make it dark enough to fall back asleep with the glow of the moon illuminating my tent.

Morning came, and we were breaking camp after our breakfast. The night hiker wondered back into our camp to say thank you for last night’s hospitality showing him a camp site. He was a soft-spoken man with an English accent. We started a conversation with him asking him details of his hike, his hiking history and eventually bid him farewell. As he walked farther from us and out of our sight we continued to discuss him and his story.

“David” had started on the Arizona Trail 5 weeks earlier at the Utah Stateline and needed to finish at the Mexican border within 10 days to catch his flight back home to Canada. He had in fact been hiking and back packing his whole life. He had started when he was about 10 in England, but he had lived in Canada for over 50 years. He was a young 70-year-old who last year had completed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 6 months. He had also trekked the Appalachian Trail. He said he preferred long thru hikes and wasn’t aware of which hike would be his next one. He had been outfitted in an old exterior framed canvas backpack which seemed perfectly sufficient for him. Yikes…. I don’t think they even sell that equipment type anymore. I inquired about what his family thought about his thru hike and time away from home and he said he had no family.  He explained that he found a lot of the thru hikers he had come to meet through his travels also were solo which seemed to allow for their choices of how they spend their time…. on the trails…in the middle of nowhere often alone perfectly ok. We found it all very interesting.

What struck me about meeting him out there was that he was as much of interest as the beauty or the diversity of the landscape we had hiked through. The depth of character and wealth of information he offered I found intriguing. I’m often motivated by ‘wonder’ and I feel at peace in Mother Nature looking at all she offers me to ‘wonder’ about. Yet after speaking to David I reflected on the ‘wonder’ of the souls we meet while out on the trails……and what makes ‘those’ people be the ones you cross paths with? I don’t know … but what I do know is that there seems to be a ‘liked mind-ness’ out on the trails and to be able to share ‘that’ with strangers seems like an additional benefit to hiking.

Looking forward to meeting more hikers on the trails….

-Kat

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