Eddie thought we were crazy. He thought that all that wading on a cold day would end in disaster once the sun went down, but we didn’t listen. The canyon was calling.
The forecast called for colder and getting colder, clear to partly hypothermic at night. It was December, and someone, I think it was Jason, had a permit for Aravaipa Canyon.
Desert hikes can be grim, stoic death marches, but hiking in Aravaipa Canyon is like taking your inner child out for a walk. You splash through water under a canopy of trees, and the desert, warm, hostile, unforgiving, seems far away.
We found a place to camp, dropped packs and started to explore.
Dropping packs normally like is a shot of adrenaline – you cover ground quickly and chew up miles, and that’s what we did, at, first. We worked our way upstream, came to a junction of two canyons and started up one of them.
The canyon pinched in, cutting off progress. A series of water holes and smooth gray rock, where we laid down in the sun. Life was good.
Then a general feeling of apathy and sloth settled in. It was as if we had stumbled into a real-life version of the Odyssey and had entered the land of the Lotus Eaters. As if a bug or a virus had thrown us off our game.
We called it Aravitus.
When we finally peeled ourselves from the rock, it was time to shamble on back to camp. We built a fire and stayed warm in the cold December night. Eddie was so wrong.
The nitty gritty:
Access: There are two access points, east and west, and a permit is required for both. The east requires a high-clearance vehicle and is a 5 or 6-hour drive from Phoenix. Aravaipa has plenty of water, but it should be treated. No pets. Strong hikers can chew up the whole canyon in 8 to 10 hours, the Bureau of Land Management reports. That’s probably accurate, but exploring side canyons can take time, and Aravitis can slow you down considerably.
Best time to go: early spring, late fall. Winter backpackers should carry extra clothes and place their sleeping bag in a dry bag. Just in case.
USGS maps: Booger Canyon, Brandenburg Mountain.
We live in a litigious, guardrail society, in which is necessary to state the obvious.
Hiking the Arizona backcountry is dangerous. There is a perception that when a trail appears in a guidebook, or on a website, or in a magazine, it has been “tamed.” It has not. You are responsible for your own safety. Arizona is home to rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, tarantulas, black widows, scorpions, javelina, black bear, a few wolves. You may encounter extreme heat, freezing cold, flash floods, unstable people, falling rocks, falling trees, wildfire.
On a hot day, you should drink at least one gallon of water per person, per day. There is water in Arizona, but water sources can be unreliable. Purify all water that you find in the backcountry. And eat something, for cryin’ out loud.
It is a good idea to carry the 10 essentials on all hikes – day hikes or backpacking trips. The list can vary slightly but are similar. Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills breaks it down to the following: navigation, sun protection, insulation, illumination, first aid, fire, repair kit, nutrition, hydration and shelter. Put another way: knife, map, compass, lighter, fleece, food, extra water, water purification, first aid, rain gear, sunscreen, flashlight, duct tape, space blanket or large trash bag. Add judgment. Please note that a cell phone is not on the list. Cell phone reach is sketchy in the backcountry. Be careful. Have fun.