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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Baboquivari

Our first real rock climbing trip of the semester, it’s a shame it had to come so close to the end of the class. Our teacher told us that we’d be climbing a sacred mountain down in the Tucson area, which was exciting, and I remember telling my partner about it, though I’m sure I said the name wrong after only hearing it once.
“Yeah, we’re going to take a two day trip to go climb Bava-Keen-wa,” I probably stated.
“You’re climbing a grain-like seed native to South America?”
“No, No, that’s Quinoa, but I will eat that while I’m up there.”
We set out early Sunday morning, chugging south in the van as the elevation dropped and the world outside become more and more toasty. Around Phoenix we stopped for a brunch break, and the continued on our way to the desert lowlands surrounding Tucson.
The van ride felt like forever, and by the time we arrived my legs were not very happy about being told to hike 2,000 vertical feet over 3 ½ miles. At least the view is pretty, I thought at them. That’s all well and good for someone with eyes, they shot back, much to my surprise. And so we were off. Up through the shrubby trees, up past the Saguaros, who’s arms seemed to wave at us in a sympathetic way like “Hey, that’s too bad about you having to hike up this hill. Sorry we won’t be joining you, but we’re attached to the ground, you see.”

I would learn later that heat stroke sometimes presents itself as hallucinated conversations with inanimate objects.
When we reached the campsite for the night I immediately got to setting up my tent. I’m not what one would call an efficient person, and I’m not particularly fond of fumbling around with poles in the darkness with a dim headlamp and sleepy brain. I then started cooking dinner for myself, some quinoa that I had brought up with me, some cheese, and some boca meat. It was a beautiful spot, the fading daylight casting easy shadows that danced about on the peak we would attempt to summit the next day. The last rays of the sun were licking the tip of Baboquivari as I ate dinner, and it certainly beat starting at my dinner table.



We woke up around 6am, in an attempt to beat the heat of the day up to the top of the mountain. Even more breathtaking than the setting sun from the night before was Baboquivari’s shadow out across the desert.
I stuffed my harness into the brain of my pack along with some water and a few granola bars for the day. I offered to carry the rack for my group, which I quickly learned was more trouble than it was worth while also carrying a brain, I felt like a lopsided cow slowly jingling and jangling up the trail.
We hiked to the base of the cliffs and cached our hiking boots and back-packs. Making our way from the gear cache to the beginning of the climb itself was exciting, we kept our left hands in contact with the one cliff while making sure not to veer too far to the right or risk careening off another cliff.
Then the climbing began. Baboquivari loomed over us, like the fin of some giant stone shark. Now, the climbing wasn’t actually all that difficult. We took it slow, placing gear and moving up the rock, but I don’t think I found any moves that were harder that 5.9, but as we climbed the drop on either side of us went quickly from 40 feet to hundreds of feet. Those pieces of gear that I felt unsure about suddenly began calling out to me for extra attention.

This was the first time I had done anything that was six pitches long, and it was fantastic. The exposure, while scary, was really awe-inspiring, it felt wonderful to look out and be thousands of feet above the desert floor below. We finally reached the top after about three hours of climbing, the view exploding out around us. I had intelligently left my sunscreen at camp, and so I immediately attempted to hide my sun-burned neck under a bush for a few minutes before giving up. I’ve been on top of a lot of mountains, and the view from this one was spectacular, and probably more so because I knew that I had just climbed up the darn thing. My only regret is that there was a fair amount of smog, I assume blowing in from L.A., that took away just a bit of the awe.
The descent from the peak was probably the most scenic and most fun descent off a mountain I’ve every experienced, clambering down along the cliff face made me wish I could do this sort of thing all the time. We got back to camp much faster than the time it had taken to reach the climbs earlier that morning, and we were packed and ready to go within ten minutes of reaching the campsite.

Now I am a person that likes to think about experiences like this after they happen, so I took the front of the line and sped down the trail, my mind ablaze with activity. By the time I was within five minutes of the van, I was a good half mile ahead of the group.
I was within two minutes of the van, really ready to take off my pack and relax on the ride home, and was strolling over a dry creek bed when suddenly there was something moving in the bushes off to my left. Something Big. Something making lots of noise.
Before we began hiking, one of the locals had mentioned to us that there were cougars that patrolled the slopes of Baboquivari quite frequently. I’ve been through a few wilderness first aid and wilderness survival classes, I know it’s a bad idea to be alone with a cat that large. Looking around slowly, I bent down and picked up a large rock. I knew my pack would protect me if it tried to leap on my neck, so I kept that on. I wondered if I should just wait silently until the rest of the group caught up with me, but that could take a long time.
Scanning the brush, I sidled along the trail, careful to be as quiet as possible. Slowly moving towards the van, constantly on the look out for a deadly blur out of the undergrowth. I decided to try my luck, and I chuck a small rock into the bushes. The large thing starts at the noise, and then lets out a ferocious roar that you could probably hear from a few hundred meters away. It went like this:
MMMMmmmmmOooooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooo.”
I felt a little embarrassed, and did not mention the incident to my class when they found me, 20 minutes later, napping at the van.
As we drove away, the sun was setting again, casting a dark red light on Baboquivari. I stared back as the peak grew smaller and smaller, quite a bit remiss that I’ll only be able to have stand-offs with cows in a classroom setting for another year.