Monday, October 19, 2020

It was supposed to be easy

Heart of Rocks Loop is in the center (heart) of Chiricahua National Monument. You can get there by hiking down from the top or up from the bottom. The latter option seemed like a good idea. A gradual ascent in exchange for an easy downhill return at the end, when I’d be more tired. Because I’m an old guy.

The hike started at the visitor center, on Lower Rhyolite Trail. Wide, smooth, almost flat. I was energetic and optimistic. Piece of cake. But then the trail got narrower and rockier. And steeper. Still no problem.

By the time I reached the junction with Sarah Deming Trail I needed a rest. That was only a mile and a half? It seemed farther. A constant uphill grade makes demands (polite requests?) upon the cardio system. My legs were saying, “Yeah, we’re doing some work, but we’re okay.”

Up... up... up...

Sarah Deming Trail continued to climb. Relentlessly. My legs were asking, “Are we about done here?” The last quarter mile is a set of steeper switchbacks, featuring stairs whose rises are about twelve to sixteen inches. (Most stairs have a rise of four to seven inches.)  I was totally burned out and wobbly-legged by the time I reached the summit and the junction with Heart of Rocks Loop. Then, surprise, my phone chirped. There was good cell reception. A small reward, in case the scenery and sense of accomplishment weren’t enough.

After some (more) water, a protein bar and checking my email, it was time for the main event. And a few more steep trail sections. It was worth it.

We humans see faces everywhere

Kissing Rocks

Downhill hiking should be a literal stroll in the park. Except the footing gets trickier. Feet can slide on loose bits, sending you into the arms of gravity. I picked foot placement carefully and avoided any falls or twisted ankles. Leg muscles that had spent the first half of the hike going tighten, tighten, tighten, tighten were now tasked with releasing tension gracefully—over and over and over—while the heart and lungs asked, “What’s the problem down there? This is the easy part.”

By the time I got back to the bottom part of Rhyolite Trail I started having wishful-thinking-induced hallucinations. I saw a large patch of white through the trees ahead and convinced myself it was the Rolling Steel Tent. Alas, it was just some sunlit cliff face. Not home yet.

Unlike other hikers returning to their mere cars, I had the Most Comfortable Bed Ever awaiting me in the Rolling Steel Tent. I collapsed for and hour and a half.

This was the most exhausting hike this former couch potato has ever done. July’s hike at Garden Creek Waterfall was intensely vertical, but only for a short distance at the beginning. This hike was like five hours on a StairMaster, but with no Spandex-clad cuties panting and sweating next to me. 

Now I have a frame of reference for a 1,600 foot elevation gain in three miles. I know what it's like, and I know can do it.


  1. You are my new HERO. I no longer can do those hikes. Congratulations.

  2. That is a healthy amount of elevation change.

  3. Replies
    1. I'm chuckling, because as I was hiking I thought of your guys. "Well, this certainly isn't wheelchair accessible."

    2. You're right about that! Some of it doesn't look like it's walking accessible. :-D

  4. Get a walking schtick....that picture in rock tells me that guy needed a new dermatologist.

    1. I have a stick, but I wanted both hands free for easier videography.

  5. I thought it was called smooching rock....