What’s on your hiking checklist?

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

Doug and Chuck start off on the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake

 

Spring in Arizona always brings a renewed excitement of outdoor activity. It’s the best time for spring training baseball, festivals, picnics, wildflower watching and day hiking. I already have found myself plotting courses to the Superstition, Catalina and White mountains. I’ve dusted off my day pack in anticipation of my next hike. But first it’s time to do a little equipment inventory before hitting the trail again, so I’m compiling another day hiking checklist. (I knew the last one was outdated because it listed such items as “fanny pack” and “film.”) Please help me — could you suggest some additional items? Here’s what I have so far (in no particular order):

  • Water (100 oz. for my Camelbak M.U.L.E. hydration pack)
  • Compass/GPS
  • Maps (single sheet trail maps can be put in a waterproof pouch if phone service fails)
  • Hiking boots or shoes (I love my Keen’s – they seem to mold perfectly to my feet)
  • Hat (I’m learning to wear a hat that covers ears too.)
  • Gloves (for chilly mornings or steel cable hand-rails)
  • Small flash light or headlamp
  • Reflective emergency blanket
  • Cell phone (Fine, when it’s usable when in cell service area. Otherwise it’s feels like a “boat anchor.” So my phone usually serves as a timepiece and camera.)
  • Mophie Juice Pack Plus (To extend cell phone battery life)
  • Digital SLR Camera (Only if I’m sure I’m going to capture that National Geographic Photo Contest winning shot. Otherwise it’s just another “anchor.”)
  • Pair of binoculars (Best for those view trails when I’m sure I’ll use it – if not: “boat anchor.”)
  • Trash bag (Plain old plastic grocery bag, just for picking up picnic trash)
  • Hiking staff (I need just one pole — for extra balance and traction)
  • Rain poncho (Small fold-up type – but this really doesn’t get much use)
  • Tissue pack
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gauze, bandages, corn cushions
  • Ace bandage
  • Tweezers/nail clippers or small Leatherman tool (but not too large or it’s just another, you guessed it: “boat anchor”)
  • Benadryl
  • Ibuprofen
  • Lip protection
  • Whistle (Mom always said to pack a whistle – even before the “Titanic” movie)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Matches in waterproof container
  • Identification
  • Food for snacks or lunch including: fruit, jerky/beef stick/salami, trail mix, cheese, crackers, small sandwiches

Did I forget anything? Of course, not all hikes require ALL of these items. What items will be going into your day pack? I’d like to know about your day hiking tips and your hiking checklist recommendations!

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Escape desert heat on Oak Spring Trail

chuck on trail

Hiking in close proximity to urban or residential areas, I have become very accustomed to encountering ‘fitness hikers.’ They rarely stop and smell wildflowers, gaze out over a panoramic lookout point or fumble around with an uncooperative camera case. And they surely don’t spread out a picnic lunch over a flat rock. But on this particular May Saturday morning, my husband and I found the “Oak Spring Trail via Hardscrabble Road” completely devoid of hikers.

The trailhead is fairly easy to find and because it’s within a mile of cabins and vacation homes in nearby Pine, we thought we’d see somebody — fitness hikers, nature hikers, maybe even a couple of backpackers. Nope! No one!

After driving west for 1.5 miles on Hardscrabble Road from state route 87 in Pine, we spotted the two-way trail crossing sign and the two-car pullout, just the way our favorite hiking website described it. This must be the place! Hardscrabble Road is a well-traveled, well-graded dirt road. So I was a bit surprised to see no other parked cars. The trailhead is on the left (south) side of the road.

wide trail at beginning

Oak Spring Trail starts out as a wide, easily visible trail

As you start out, the trail appears wide and well used. We thought because of its location and condition at the beginning, it would also be maintained, but as we continued to hike south, we realized the easy-walking, shaded path was becoming increasingly overgrown with oak, Ponderosa pine, juniper and manzanita. We followed the trail to a small creek bed, which at least on this trip was dry – not even a puddle or two. Then the light bulb went on: no creek water, no hikers.

Here, the trail location was a bit fuzzy. We zigzagged the creek several times, believing we had seen the last of several rock cairns.  We finally picked up the trail again on the right (west) side of the creek and it led us uphill away from the gulch, to a clearing. In a hundred feet or so, we spotted the trail intersection marker of Oak Spring Trail, Walnut Trail No. 251 and Oak Spring Trail No. 16. The latter is a three-mile trek east, ending at the Pine Trailhead, located just east of SR 87, 12 miles north of Payson. If we do this trip again, it would be nice to make a shuttle hike, parking a second vehicle at the Pine Trailhead. At the meadow, we searched for the spring — or any kind of water — without success, but I think we may have not hiked far enough past the trail intersection.

 

sign

Trail marker identifies three-way intersection. Note the small Arizona Trail system marker at the bottom.

Although many sections of the short Oak Spring Trail are nondescript, I recommend this trail to hikers looking for a short, easy hike into the Mogollon Rim country. Since it’s close to Pine and Strawberry, it could be combined with additional trails, or other family activities and attractions.  An ideal time of year for this hike would be March or April when the creek would be flowing.

century plant

Century plant's new sprout seen on the Oak Spring Trail