About a year ago a small group of us did the first “club” hike to Browns Peak in the Four Peaks Wilderness (see blog entry here —> https://oldslowhans.com/2015/02/28/four-peaks-looking-down-on-the- supes/ ).
When writing up my blog of that hike, I made this observation “wouldn’t this be a great spot to photograph the sunset and a following sunrise”. Well, such a notion obviously implies spending the night in the wilderness, because hiking out after sunrise, or hiking in before sunrise isn’t an option.
So over the summer I gently hinted to my son Chris that this might be a worthy adventure for his next visit to Arizona. Frankly, I wasn’t prepared for his enthusiastic involvement.
Over the summer he assembled the “kit” we’d need for the trip, including MRE food packs, sleeping bags, backpacks, small “one man tents” called “bivvies”, and other miscellaneous items I wouldn’t have thought of. Last Sunday he arrived in Phoenix, and we promptly scheduled the hike, leaving Monday and returning Tuesday.
Our destination is a saddle just below the summit of Browns Peak. On our previous hike I had noticed numerous good campsites here.
In the photo above, Browns Peak is the leftmost of the four higher peaks. It rises to a height of 7,659 feet. The saddle where we will sleep is about 800 feet below the summit.
Our hike starts at the “Lone Pine” trailhead, about 2.5 miles from the saddle at an elevation of 5,740 feet. Last year we drove to the trailhead via FR143, a tortuous 18-mile trip sponsored by Monroe-matic shock absorbers and your local chiropractor. A nasty road indeed. Our route this time was via El Oso Road, a 10-mile gravel road in much better condition.
The elevation change on the hike will be about 1,100 feet. Last year, with just a day pack, I considered that hike “moderately difficult” because of the thin air, but not a tough climb.
But with significant packs (see Chris and Snoopy above) full of food, water, sleeping bags, ground mats, bivvies, extra clothing, and a bottle of nice wine, we agreed that we’d had our butts kicked on the hike in.
Also, last year the trail was completely dry but this time we had to traverse a stretch, about 200 yards, of slippery footing due to wet snow.
Remember the name of that road we drove to the trailhead? “El Oso”. Spanish speakers, please translate for the rest of us. “Oso” = “Bear”. The Four Peaks wilderness contains the largest concentration of black bears in Arizona, and along the trail we found a pile of fresh evidence of what “bears do in the woods”. But Smokey was not spotted. My guess is that our rough demeanor scared the “crap” out of him, and he headed for Utah.
The early part of the trail is in a Ponderosa pine forest, with views mostly to the west.
Higher in the trek the views shift eastward over Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake. At this elevation we rise mostly above the pine forest.
We arrived at the saddle around 3:30, and the first order was to select a camp site and set up camp. The camping area that I had anticipated using because it was exposed to sweeping views was also, unfortunately, exposed to strong winds which had come up over the area. We scouted around and found another site, protected from the wind in a “hollow” nearby. Even there it was breezy, so we cancelled plans for a campfire, not wanting to burn down the mountain.
Here you see our home for the night. The two small “bivouac” tents with sleeping bags inside kept us was comfortably warm all night, although temperatures fell WELL below freezing, and the wind persisted at around 30MPH all night.
The snowbank peaking out at left-center-edge of the photo was pressed into service as our wine cooler, and it was a tad unsettling to discover a set of cougar tracks (at least a couple days old) crossing our “refrigerator”.
With camp set up, we had about an hour before sunset. We elected to delay supper until after sundown to take full advantage of the “golden hour” photography.
The best views were westerly, where the winds had kicked up a mist of dust, giving the sunset a rich golden tone. In the scene below, the Superstitions (Flatiron) lie in upper left, with Saguaro Lake faintly visible to the right.
In the scene below a lone bird flies westward into the sunset. The prominent mountains at the horizon are about 50 miles away, the most prominent peak being South Mountain. The middle range (just beyond the bird) is the area around Usery and Pass mountain, and the closer ones are the Goldfields around Saguaro Lake.
Below is a sunset scene looking northeast towards Payson and the Mogollon Rim country.
I have about 35 shots of this sunset! The range of colors over time was just astounding, changing almost minute-to-minute!
After sunset we enjoyed our dinner in the twilight and settled in for the moonrise. (The timing of our adventure was perfect, corresponding to the date of a full moon.)
Here’s a “halloween-ish” shot through the trees. The bright moon shone all night, bright enough to cast shadows.
Here’s a view westward from our camp spot. The lights of Phoenix are about 45 miles away, and the foreground is lit by moonlight.
Below is a panoramic shot showing the entire valley. The dim cluster in right-foreground is Fountain Hills, with Scottsdale in right background, Phoenix right-center, and the “east valley” stretching out to the left of the image. The light streak at right-top is a passing aircraft (this was a 30-second exposure).
We turned in about 2100, in expectation of early 0630 reveille for the sunrise. The accommodations were surprisingly comfy, in spite of the cold and wind.
Crawling out in the morning, the temp was about 25, and the wind at least 30mph. That works out to a windchill of about 8!
Overnight the wind had shifted to the east bringing clear mountain air to the valley as opposed to the dusty desert air of last evening.
In the blue predawn light, this eastern ridgeline was too good not to shoot. The near foreground is “our” Browns Peak, and the layers of mountains marching eastward in the mist are the Sierra Ancha range (at mid-left) and the White Mountains to the eastward.
As dawn broke over the landscape, there was an ever-changing drama. Here the peaks of the Superstitions are highlighted as they are raked by the first rays of the rising sun.
After about an hour of sunrise photography we broke camp and headed back to civilization.
Closing on a personal note, I want to again thank my son Chris for being the “head outfitter” to pull of the hike of a lifetime for this old man. Without your help this hike would still be a dream; now it is a memory. Thanks, kid!